Nova Scotia

Ambulance system review won't be made public anytime soon

It will be months — if not longer — before the public gets to see a consultant’s report on the province’s ambulance system.

N.S. health minister says consultant's report could affect contract negotiations

The Nova Scotia government will delay the public release of a report reviewing the ambulance system until contract negotiations are complete. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

It will be months — if not longer — before the public gets to see a consultant's report on Nova Scotia's ambulance system.

The provincial government contracted Fitch and Associates for $145,000 in October 2018 to complete the review, which was originally due in December 2018. The company required several extensions and the report was finally delivered this past October.

At the time, Health Minister Randy Delorey pledged to make the report public after putting it through a freedom of information and protection of privacy screening. On Wednesday, he said that screening process determined the department will keep the report under wraps for now.

Could affect contract talks

Delorey said it's been determined the report cannot be shared at this time because the government and the ambulance service provider, EMCI, are preparing to enter into negotiations. The current contract ends March 31, 2020.

"The report provides input and recommendations that are really critical to those negotiations and improvements to be made within our EHS system," Delorey said in a phone interview.

"Once negotiations are complete, I think those concerns would be removed and the report can be made public at that time."

EMCI and paramedics are also in contract negotiations, another determining factor in the decision, said Delorey, although those talks are well advanced compared to where things stand between the province and provider.

The minister said the report acknowledges the strength of the system and paramedics while also identifying "opportunities to adapt and evolve to a next stage of EHS system delivery."

'We're not standing still'

Delorey ordered the report against the backdrop of persistent tie-ups of ambulances waiting outside emergency departments to transfer patients into the care of hospital staff. It meant crews were delayed returning to the roads, a problem the paramedics union repeatedly highlighted.

This past spring, Delorey called on the Nova Scotia Health Authority to address the issue and changes were made at the five busiest emergency departments. Those efforts have started to produce some promising results, although officials have noted there's still a long way to go.

Although the public won't see the report anytime soon, Delorey said neither that fact or negotiations will prevent his department from trying to improve a system that hasn't had an overhaul in more than two decades and using the report as part of that work.

"We're not standing still or waiting," he said.

Political reaction

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the public is being denied information it needs to judge the government's work on the file.

"This is not a peripheral matter," he said. "This is right at the epicentre of the whole health-care crisis. So we've had a major report to look into it. The government should have the forthrightness and respect for the public to put the facts before the people of the province."

PC Leader Tim Houston agreed Nova Scotians should have access to the information in the report.

"I wish the government would stop seeing Nova Scotians as the enemy. Nova Scotians are not the enemy," he said. 

"If [the government] would work with the providers, if they would work with Nova Scotians, we would be a lot further ahead in the delivery of health care in this province."

With files from Jean Laroche