B.C. Liberal emergency response policies create long waits for help

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BURNABY – New Democrats say a series of troubling recent incidents show how the B.C. Liberal government’s changes to emergency response policies are putting patients at risk.

“Last October, B.C. Ambulance Service reclassified nearly a third of emergency calls from emergency dispatch to routine dispatch. In Burnaby, this has led to a number of incidents where people with serious injuries waited hours for medical help,” said New Democrat public safety critic Kathy Corrigan.

In a recent letter to B.C. Emergency Health Services, Burnaby’s deputy fire chief detailed 11 incidents over the past six months in which seriously injured people waited more than an hour for an ambulance after the fire department arrived to a 9-1-1 call.

These incidents included a 79-year-old woman with a head injury, a 26-year-old woman suffering from a seizure, a 90-year-old woman who fell and cut her head, and a 77-year-old man who fell, suffered a concussion, and lay on the floor without food or water for two days.

“In all but one of these incidents, paramedics would have responded to with lights and sirens before the changes. While the other incident was a non-emergency call, it too was flagged because paramedics did not arrive for a full two hours. In all of these incidents, people who already sustained injuries faced serious additional distress by waiting far too long for medical help to arrive,” said Corrigan.

New Democrat health critic Judy Darcy pointed out the policy change has meant that 30 per cent of calls have been downgraded from emergency dispatch, which are responded to by ambulance paramedics with lights and sirens, to routine dispatch. Some examples of downgraded calls include convulsions, second-trimester hemorrhage and electrocution by lightning.

These changes will also see costs and responsibilities downloaded to fire services and municipalities.

“These changes were made without consultation with paramedics, firefighters or municipal leaders, who have expressed serious concerns about the impact on patient safety,” said Darcy.

“This is another attempt by the B.C. Liberal government to balance their budget without regard for patient safety. The health minister needs to step in immediately and reverse this dangerous decision.”