“This incident should set alarms ringing for officials at Manitoba Health, and at regional health authorities across Manitoba, about what we’re putting our medics through and what changes need to be made.” - Lois Wales, MGEU President.
Winnipeg (29 Aug. 2012) - On Aug. 28, in the early morning, an ambulance from the Prairie Mountain Regional Health Authority was involved in a single-vehicle accident just south of Neepawa, Manitoba.
The ambulance slid off the road and into the ditch. Paramedics had been returning to their home community of Swan River after doing an all-night inter-facility transfer. The paramedic had fallen asleep while driving, after several days and nights working with little sleep.
The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU/NUPGE) has been raising the alarm about paramedic fatigue for several years now. The union feels this is an unfortunate example of what can happen when paramedics are being asked to work long hours with very little or no sleep.
“We are extremely thankful that the paramedics were not injured as a result of this accident, and also that the ambulance was not transporting a patient,” said MGEU President Lois Wales. “This incident should set alarms ringing for officials at Manitoba Health, and at regional health authorities across Manitoba, about what we’re putting our medics through and what changes need to be made.”
Manitoba paramedics are often asked to work upwards of 24 hours or more with limited sleep, are required to travel at high speeds on Manitoba highways, and many do not have the option of resting between shifts if they are required to do “on-call” or stand-by shifts.
“In some regional health authorities, a standard of approximately 16 hours is set beyond which paramedics are told to stop working, and we think standards like that are appropriate when you consider the health and welfare of patients, paramedics, and the motoring public,” Wales said. “That standard is not being met in the vast majority of regional health authorities across the province, and that’s one of the areas that needs change.”
The long hours worked by paramedics often come about as a result of working mandatory on-call or stand-by shifts in addition to regularly scheduled shift work. The MGEU/NUPGE has called for the elimination of stand-by and on-call shifts in favour of full-time, set schedules and hours for paramedics.
The Manitoba government recently launched a comprehensive review of emergency medical services in Manitoba. The review, it is hoped, will be the catalyst for government to begin making meaningful changes to EMS that will result in safer work environments, and better health care outcomes for patients regardless of where they live.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE