Sask. NDP raises concerns after hundreds of calls for ambulances go unanswered

The Offical Opposition is calling on the Sask. Party government to address the province’s EMS crisis, which has led to calls for an ambulance going unanswered.

Official Opposition Leader Carla Beck, Health Critic Vicki Mowat, and Rural and Remote Health Critic Matt Love called the Government after they obtained documents that show that through the first six weeks of 2023, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) did not have an ambulance available to respond to 216 calls.

“Folks across Saskatchewan can’t get an ambulance when they need it. By sitting on over a billion dollars, Scott Moe wasted a once-in-a-generation chance to lead the national race to hire nurses, doctors and EMS personnel,” Beck said. “His priorities are totally out of whack with what Saskatchewan people need.”

According to the NDP, Regina led the way with the highest number of incidents when no ambulance was available, at 49 times. Communities serviced by private ambulances, such as Saskatoon, were not included.

Health Minister Paul Merriman said they know there are challenges, but progress has been made.

“There are some challenging times with our ambulance services, but we’ve been able to reduce our ambulance offload delays by 40 per cent since December; we’ve also been able to reduce the overall stay with our whole healthcare system by one day.”

“We are continuing to work with EMS providers to be able to make sure that we can get those ambulances out of the hallways, in the back of the hospital, and rolling to be able to get the patient needs,” he continued.

Health Critic Vicki Mowat said a shortage of EMS workers is just the tip of the iceberg.

“A key driver of the problems with ambulances all across our province is the crisis in our emergency rooms. When ERs are full, there is nowhere for an ambulance to offload a patient,” she said. “The ambulance and paramedics have to wait at the hospital until a bed is free.”

Merriman said that the province had made investments to also address the province’s ER problems.

“We are adding urgent cares in Regina and Saskatoon to be able to take the pressure off of that,” he said. “We are working with hospital staff, not just the SHA, but the affiliates to improve overall flow if somebody needs to go from the emergency up to the wards.”

“This process starts at the emergency room door and ends when the patient is discharged.”

Of the 216 calls, Buffalo Narrows was second at 24 and Meadow Lake at 17. Another 37 communities with SHA ambulances reported at least one instance of ‘No Ambulance Available.’ The majority of those instances were in rural communities.

The Minister for Rural and Remote Health, Everett Hindley, said the Government has also invested in helping rural communities.

“The 2023/24 budget includes an increase of over $8.8 million in annual funding to enhance emergency medical services right across the province, building upon last year’s investment into this very critical area for healthcare across rural and remote Saskatchewan,” he said. “The funding in this year’s budget includes $3.5 million to support an additional 33 FTEs in 27 communities across this province.”

“We are doing everything we can to recruit, train, incentive, and retain healthcare workers in this province. This includes paramedics in this province, and we are going to continue to work and meet with local communities as we address these challenges.”

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said that, as with all EMS services, calls to 911 are prioritized based on severity.

“In the event that an ambulance is not immediately available, the next closest available ambulance will be dispatched,” they said in a statement. “In the case of a critical call within the city of Regina, the Regina Fire Department will first respond and provide care until an ambulance can arrive.”

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