It's getting easier to get an ambulance in a hurry in Hamilton

Two of the most integral parts of the city's ambulance response are showing signs of improvement.

City in the process of hiring more paramedics and putting new ambulances on the roads

Two of the most integral parts of the city's ambulance response are showing signs of improvement. (CBC)

Hamilton's plan to hire more paramedics and put more ambulances on the roads to curb response times and drop code zero alarm rates appears to be working.

For years, the city has had a problem with ambulances, as sometimes there just weren't enough to go around.

The number of "code zero" incidents, which is when "one or less" transport ambulances are available to help on emergency calls, had jumped significantly from 2008 to 2013.

But according to a new report from the Community and Emergency Services Department, code zero incidents are down 75 per cent from the 2014 level and are now at the lowest reported level since 2007.

"Placing this in perspective, the frequency has gone down from an average of 4.5 events per week in 2013, and 3.7 events per week in 2014, to just under one event per week," the report reads.

"While Code Zero events continue to be a challenge, and we have noted a slightly increasing frequency over the months of September and October, we are continuing to work to reduce them and the approved staffing enhancements are an important part of that strategy."

Response times improve

Response times, the report says, have improved in the back half of 2015, too. In February, the response time for a potentially life threatening emergency call (known as a code 4) was 11 minutes and 52 seconds.

That number dipped down by just over a full minute in June, before rising again to 11 minutes and 17 seconds in September. Still, shaving off that half a minute is a good thing, the report says.

This comes at a cost. Back in March, Councillors voted to spend $481,864 this year and $1,158,954 in 2016 to add 30 paramedics and one supervisor. They're also poised to approve a capital cost of $1.2 million over the next two years to buy five new ambulances.

As staffing levels have increased and service levels improve, the call volume paramedics are dealing with is going up, too. The projected call volume for 2015 is 59,700 calls, up from 47, 843 in 2008.

Losing time for hospital turnaround

An area that continues to be a problem is the amount of time ambulances are losing at hospitals for turnaround.

According to the latest Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative report (OMBI), 24.5 per cent of Hamilton ambulance time is lost to hospital turnaround in 2014.

That's well above the 19.7 per cent median, and the third highest percentage of the 12 cities measured in the report.

The number has been improving, though, as it has dipped from 29.2 per cent in 2013.

"Hospitals have identified that one of the issues contributing to longer delays is the clustering of ambulance arrivals at an individual site rather than a more broad and equitable distribution," the city report reads.

"While some of this clustering is clearly due to the unique patient destination guidelines for some patient conditions as requested by the hospitals we agree that there is an opportunity for some improvement."