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Paramedics sound alarm on ambulance availability

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Local paramedics are sounding the alarm over the availability of ambulances in London’s Middlesex.

It came to a head on Tuesday night when 16 ambulances were herded into the London Health Sciences Center emergency department unable to respond to emergency calls, according to the union representing paramedics.

OPSEU Local 147 vice-president Abed Al-Nasser Kaddoura told CTV News this type of scenario is now commonplace.

“At first it was pretty blatant and now it’s day to day,” he said. “That’s all we hear at the start of our shift for our meetings. ‘Hospitals are delayed, you’re going to be delayed, service is slow, go for it’.”

And, too often, reinforcements are brought in, according to OPSEU Local 147 President Jason Schinbein.

“How often do we hear ambulances coming from places like Stratford, St. Thomas, County Oxford, to answer calls in London. And they arrive at their highest priority, so lights and sirens to respond to a call here in central London, that we’ve never seen that.”

The revelations follow an Ontario Health document leaked by the Ontario Liberals. The document outlines a host of pressures on the provincial health care system, including the fact that nine out of 10 emergency room patients are waiting more than 33 hours for an inpatient bed. This is a 54% increase over the previous year.

It was only last week that the London Health Sciences Center said emergency room wait times had reached 6 p.m. for all but the most serious medical conditions. This is partly due to delays in offloading ambulances, according to Schinbein.

“Even our high priority calls, something like chest pain or shortness of breath, major MVC where there’s no ambulance to send. There’s one coming but it’s been 30, 40 minutes .”

According to Middlesex London Paramedic Services, not all calls require an ambulance and not all patients need to go to hospital. The service is offering a pilot project that officials say could ease a huge strain on the system.

Neal Roberts, head of the Middlesex-London Emergency Medical Services Authority, says the pilot would involve taking control of the land ambulance communications centre.

“It could be an intensive care ambulance, a community paramedic, maybe a mental health crisis team, maybe better patient triage at the dispatch centre,” did he declare. “But really, it’s about making sure the patient’s needs at the time match the best medical response, as needed.”

The pilot has already been approved by Middlesex County Council. It is now awaiting approval from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.