Without any consultation, the provincial government changed 74 emergency call codes from “emergency” to “routine” last October, said city councillor Geoff Meggs.
“This means that arrival times of ambulances have deteriorated from seven to eight minutes to 30 minutes in the city of Vancouver, and it’s worse elsewhere,” said Meggs.
When an emergency call comes in it is assigned a code based on the nature of the incident. The code determines how emergency personnel respond.
It’s technically optional for fire crews to respond to “routine” calls, however in practice they typically do.
Fire Chief John McKearney reported to city council numerous cases in which firefighters responded to calls only to wait for the calls to be upgraded to “emergency” in order to get a faster response from ambulance services.
Meggs said, “Firefighters stand there with an average of half an hour on the scene waiting for an ambulance, and in 10 per cent of the cases the calls are coded wrong and are not even routine.”
“Firefighters are going and stabilizing people but they can’t administer medication, they can’t transfer them to the hospital, and they don’t have access to a physician.”
McKearney alleged the changed system has become less efficient and puts patient safety at risk.
Dr. William Dick has been working with the fire department to analyze data from recent emergency calls.
“What Dr. Dick has said is that their analysis shows that there is no need for a first responders [firefighters] to go to any of these calls because an ambulance will get there eventually, but what we’re trying to understand from the ambulance service is what does eventually really mean?” said McKearney.
The council has asked staff to provide a report with suggestions for resolving the issue and provide more effective patient centered service in one month.
The B.C. Ambulance Service was unavailable for comment.