Manitoba Tories cry foul over ambulance shortage



WINNIPEG — Far too few ambulances are available in Winnipeg for periods far too long, Manitoba's Opposition Tories say. And they're accusing the NDP government of risking lives by avoiding the problem rather than fixing it.

Conservative Leader Brian Pallister and other Tory MLAs are accusing Health Minister Theresa Oswald of failing to improve the city's patient transport system, which had no ambulances available to respond to emergencies for a total of more than nine hours in October.

Pallister said Saturday that such "code red" situations, arising mainly from ambulances and paramedics waiting at hospital emergency rooms, are becoming worse as the combined length of the delays has grown this year.

"The NDP promised years ago to end hallway medicine, but we never thought they were going to end it by having patients wait in ambulances in parking lots," Pallister told QMI Agency.

"Someone could be having a heart attack or a stroke or be in a serious accident, when there's absolutely no ambulance available. That is just almost unbelievable, given the billions of dollars in resources."

Several weeks before the end of the year, Winnipeg ambulances have spent a total equivalent of 4.1 years on such delays in 2012. Last year, the Conservatives say, the combined wait was 4.21 years.

At the legislature Thursday, Oswald responded to the Tories' charges by pointing to several steps taken by the New Democrats.

In addition to increasing the number of paramedics, she said, the government has "put protocols in place to ensure that those individuals that do not need to be seen in an emergency room will be seen elsewhere, by, for example, stationing paramedics at the Main Street Project that is seeing thousands and thousands of patients every year."

Oswald added that a standalone mental-health emergency room is planned to open this winter, and that "QuickCare" clinics and access centres are sharing the patient load.

"We're investing in new protocols where our paramedics can treat and refer and deflect from an emergency room," she said, "so that our emergency rooms are saved for true emergencies."

However, Pallister said the continuing alarming numbers show a dire lack of progress.

"I don't think it's at all unfair to ask her to focus on solving the problem," he said of Oswald. "I'm generally convinced that we have a pretty good health-care system, if someone is hurt or sick. The problem is getting access to it."

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