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New Ontario ambulance system aims to better prioritize calls

The Ontario government says only one per cent of those transported by ambulance or air ambulance in 2015 required immediate emergency transportation.
The Ontario government says only one per cent of those transported by ambulance or air ambulance in 2015 required immediate emergency transportation. Global News File

TORONTO – Ontario is planning to revamp its ambulance system to redirect some patients with less pressing needs to places other than emergency rooms.

The government announced Monday that its new system would start rolling out in March 2018 and would better prioritize calls based on patient need.

It says more than one million patients were transported by land or air ambulance in 2015, and only one per cent of them were the most critically ill and required immediate emergency transportation.

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The Liberal government says it plans to update the Ambulance Act to allow paramedics to provide on-scene treatment and refer patients to primary care or community care, instead of hospitals, if appropriate.

The government says increased flexibility would reduce unnecessary trips to emergency departments, lessening overcrowding and easing wait times.

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But paramedics with the Canadian Union of Public Employees say diverting and triaging patients who call 911 for emergency medical care away from hospitals is fraught with risks. The paramedics said in a statement they believe the proposed changes will result in “negative outcomes for patients.”

“To improve response times, what’s needed is increasing the capacity of ambulance services to put more paramedics on the road,” said CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn.

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“That’s something that would cost much less than putting paramedics on firetrucks and save more lives.”

It’s estimated that fully implementing the system will take two years.