New Brunswick

'Not all doom and gloom': Health minister defends ambulance service

Health Minister Benoî​t Bourque is defending Ambulance New Brunswick amid complaints about slow response times, comparing the recent drop in service to a slightly lower, but still high, mark on a math test.

Province won't step away from Official Languages Act to repair 'cracks,' Benoî​t Bourque says

Health Minister Benoî​t Bourque says there's always room for improvement when it comes to Ambulance NB, but he applauded the service for its efforts. (CBC)

Health Minister Benoî​t Bourque is defending Ambulance New Brunswick amid complaints about slow response times, comparing the recent drop in service to a slightly lower, but still high, mark on a math test. 

And he says the province won't try to fix problems with the service, including the need for more bilingual employees, by softening requirements under New Brunswick language laws. 

"We are here to consider all options but we cannot, we cannot, step away from the Official Languages Act," he said in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton on Thursday.

Bourque said Ambulance New Brunswick, which is run by the private Medavie Health Services, earned an accreditation score of 97.4 per cent from Accreditation Canada this year for its emergency medical service.

'Cracks' in the system

"It's not all doom and gloom, but if you look at something you will always find cracks," he said.

He compared weaker ambulance response times to scoring 98 per cent on one math test and scoring 96 per cent on the next.

"It still means you're doing an excellent job, but you've dropped a little bit," Bourque said. 

The Liberal government has just released a discussion paper on ambulance service that revealed a drastic shortage of trained bilingual paramedics and a lack of language training to fill the need where bilingual service is required.

The document says 51 out of 61 vacant full-time paramedic positions are bilingual jobs, as are 31 of 40 part-time vacancies.

Bourque said the Ambulance New Brunswick has done a lot to address the problems, including hiring 55 new paramedics so far this year.

"A system is not perfect by definition, this is real life here," he said

Working together 

Problems with the ambulance service, which some critics blame on an inability to find required bilingual employees, became an issue in the recent provincial election.

The Liberals' throne speech on Tuesday proposed that an all-party committee of MLAs study the issue and report by Dec. 15.  

"We want to go about it quickly, to have recommendations done by Dec. 15, so we can get into concrete actions by then," Bourque said. 

Response times longer

The provincial government's obligation to provide bilingual ambulance services was the top issue discussed during the first question period of the new legislature on Wednesday. (Catherine Allard/Radio-Canada)

Although Bourque acknowledged some of the declines in service and said they needed to be addressed, he also suggested things aren't that bad.

In fact, he said the response time numbers are still "very good," and he applauded Medavie's management of the ambulance service, considering the current conditions.

"We can always find a crack in the system and those are unfortunate and we do not want them to happen," he said. 

The accreditation report, which said Ambulance New Brunswick attained the "highest level of performance" for small, community-based organizations relies heavily on information from the organization itself, as well as on-site visits. 

With files from Information Morning Fredericton, Jacques Poitras

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