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Quebec doctors call on province to let parents accompany kids on medical flights

To their knowledge, Quebec is the only province that "systemically'' refuses to allow parents or guardians to accompany their children on emergency flights. Photo by China Photos/Getty Images

A group of Quebec doctors is calling on the province to change its policy to allow parents to accompany sick children who are airlifted to hospitals from remote communities.

In a letter sent in December, they say sending children to hospitals without their parents is traumatic and can cause problems when it comes to treatment.

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The letter notes at least two instances where they believe a lack of parental supervision compromised patient safety: one when a young girl almost escaped the hospital because she wanted to go home, and one when a toddler fell from a bassinet.

The letter, which is signed by three pediatric doctors, argues parents are needed to help supervise and comfort their children, as well as to consent to major medical procedures.

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“Our colleagues have, on a number of occasions, reported a feeling of helplessness and indignation when seeing a child alone crying so inconsolably simply because of fear and/or pain, and there was no parent to comfort them,” the letter reads.

“These traumas can potentially have adverse emotional and psychological effects in these children.”

They say the policy disproportionately affects Inuit families in Quebec’s remote northern communities, whose children may not be able to communicate with doctors since they don’t speak English or French, and whose parents may face delays in getting a commercial flight.

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To their knowledge, Quebec is the only province that “systemically” refuses to allow parents or guardians to accompany their children on emergency flights, they added.

A spokeswoman for the hospital network that oversees the program says parents aren’t currently allowed on the plane because of limited space and safety concerns.

Genevieve Dupuis said the Quebec government’s two ambulance planes have only five seats due to the need for medical equipment, beds and an incubator.

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“Space is very limited, and medical personnel also,” she said in a phone interview.

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“If we pick up a child in distress in the north and then, whoops, we get a call on route to pick up a child in Val-d’Or (in northwestern Quebec), then we have a space issue.”

But Dupuis added the program’s leaders are open to changing the policy and have been consulting with stakeholders since last fall to see how they can offer a better service.

“We’re not closed to (changing), we’re in discussion with our partners to see what we can do,” she said.