Nova Scotia

Patient transfer service meant to free up N.S. paramedics for emergencies

The provincial government has bought three vans for Emergency Health Services to use for non-clinical patient transfers, as opposed to using paramedics and ambulances.

1-year pilot program to have vans in Kentville, Bridgewater, HRM for non-clinical transfers

The provincial government hopes a new non-clinical patient transfer service will help save paramedics and ambulances for emergencies and traumas. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

A patient transfer program is being launched in Nova Scotia in an effort to free up paramedics to focus on their primary duties.

The provincial government has bought three vans for Emergency Health Services to use for non-clinical patient transfers, as opposed to using paramedics and ambulances for the work.

The one-year pilot program will see the vans, which can transport several people at a time, based in Bridgewater, Kentville and the central health zone, which includes Halifax.

The new medical transport service will be staffed by EHS employees who will drive the vans and be in touch with the service's medical communication centre. The service is scheduled to start by February.

Eventual program expansion

Health Minister Leo Glavine told reporters Thursday the issue of patient transfers has been on his government's radar for a while and he said it was time to act.

"We needed [paramedics] to be available for the most serious of accidents and medical traumas that occur each day in our province, and here they were taking a person to dialysis, taking a very mobile person from assisted living for an X-ray or some other procedure."

Health Minister Leo Glavine expects the program to expand to the rest of the province following the one-year pilot. (CBC)

Glavine acknowledged the program launch doesn't cover all of Nova Scotia, but said he expects that to eventually happen. The government is in contract negotiations with service provider Emergency Medical Care.

"I'm sure other needs will be pointed out, but we want to make sure we have learnings from those pilot areas and then extend it across the province," he said.

Patients and their families in Nova Scotia have been drawing attention to issues with transfers and ambulances not always being available to provide the service. Paramedics and their union have highlighted the added pressures the requirement places on an already stressful work environment.

Opposition calls for release of ambulance report

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston called the announcement "a very good start," but said he'd like to have seen other parts of the province included in the service launch.

"I respect that they've tried to start somewhere," Houston told reporters. "I hope they move very quickly to fill the gaps that remain."

Houston and NDP Leader Gary Burrill speculated that a report on the province's ambulance service, which the government commissioned in 2018 and has been sitting on since it was received a year ago, might also have suggestions for the patient transfer service.

Both politicians called on the government to release the report.

Glavine and his predecessor, Randy Delorey, have said the report will remain under wraps until a new contract is in place with Emergency Medical Care.

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