"Far too often across the province there are no ambulances to respond when emergency calls come in...Imagine what would happen if there was a large-scale emergency.” — Mike Parker, HSAA President
Edmonton (22 March 2018) — New information obtained from Alberta Health Services (AHS) shows that the province of Alberta would not be able to cope with a large-scale medical crisis and is already struggling to meet day-to-day demands, says the union representing health-care professionals.
Freedom of Information response shows reality of frontline health care services in Alberta
The Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA/NUPGE) released statistics obtained by a Freedom of Information request that paint a stark picture of an Emergency Medical System (EMS) in crisis.
“Our paramedic members across the province have been saying for a long time that frontline resources have failed to keep up with demand. We now have the proof to back up those claims,” says Mike Parker, President of HSAA, which represents more than 25,000 health-care professionals, including about 3,400 paramedics.
Here’s what the information from AHS reveals:
- 19.4 per cent increase in EMS events: The number of EMS events increased by 19.4 per cent from fiscal year 2012/13 to fiscal year 2016/17 (the latest figures available). There were 390,511 EMS calls to tackle in 2016/17 — an increase of 63,460 from 2012/13.
- 12.7 per cent increase in population: The number of people living in Alberta grew by 505,293 in the same time period, to 4,475,455.
- Only 10 more ambulances: The total number of ambulances added to meet the increased demand is fewer than 10. AHS says on average there were 328.6 ambulances available per day in 2016/17, compared to 319.2, an increase of only 9.4 ambulances per day, or 2.9 per cent.
- 3.4 per cent increase in number of paramedics: The number of full-time-equivalent (FTEs) EMS workers employed by AHS has increased by 3.4 per cent to 1,873 from 1,810. However, there was a decrease of 16 paramedic FTEs from 2015/16 to 2016/17.
- 10.5 per cent increase in frontline spending: The budget for spending on frontline EMS services, excluding dispatch, has increased by 10.5 per cent, to $349.9 million from $316.7 million, a far cry from the increase in EMS events and population. The inflation rate for that period was 7.7 per cent, eating up almost the entire increase in funding, leaving almost nothing to cope with increased demands.
EMS system pushed beyond capacity
“Every day, Alberta’s paramedics are working in a system at breaking point, a situation made worse by the continuing opioid crisis, which is threatening and claiming far too many lives. Far too often across the province there are no ambulances to respond when emergency calls come in. Who’s there to respond to the 63,000 extra calls? Where are the ambulances to serve the extra half a million people? Imagine what would happen if there was a large-scale emergency,” says Parker.
“Last year, when a man drove a van into pedestrians in Edmonton in an act of terror, the city was on Code Red, which means there were no ambulances available. It took between 5 and 10 minutes to respond to the calls. In Calgary, in October, a passenger plane had to return to the international airport after take off when there was smoke in the cabin. When a call was made to have ambulances standing by in case of an emergency landing, there were only 2 available,” he says.
AHS recognizes the need to invest in more ambulance services, government not moving
“We’re not alone in saying there needs to be more frontline EMS resources. In a webinar last month, AHS CEO Dr. Vernia Yiu said "We recognize that the investment in ambulance services has not kept up with the demand and the population growth." AHS chief paramedic Darren Sandbeck said "We’ve been highlighting the need now for the last 2 fiscal cycles of the need to invest in EMS across the province.”
Parker adds, “We understand that Alberta is facing a financial squeeze and that the government is working on longer-term plans to ease the problems caused by delays in paramedics handing over patients at hospitals, but it will take a long time for those measures to bear fruit."
“Last year, the government proposed freezing ambulance services budgets for the next 2 years. Albertans experiencing medical emergencies cannot wait. We have been advocating for improved frontline resources with government and opposition MLAs. We’ll be watching the budget this week to see if the legislature can come together to increase frontline funding for the sake of Albertans,” says Parker.
For more information, please see the accompanying documents showing the importance of frontline ambulance resources in Alberta; the growing number of EMS events per year; the declining ratio of ambulances to population; the change in frontline ambulance services spending; the number of ambulances and paramedics; a breakdown by zone of the number of times ambulances have been called away from the areas where they are based; and the growth in provincial population.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 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