John Rustad: long waits for medevac unacceptable

The MLA wants a review of B.C.’s air ambulance service

John Rustad, MLA for Nechako Lakes, says northern B.C. needs a trauma centre that is able to provide emergency and specialized cardiac treatment.

Some patients in the north are experiencing serious heart conditions have waited up to six days to be transferred to a hospital in the Lower Mainland. Rustad says this is “unacceptable.”

According to the B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), which works with health authorities to coordinate patient transfers in B.C., the amount of time that rural patients usually wait before being transferred depends on a number of factors, including the availability of hospital beds and the urgency of a patient’s condition.

“The wait for a bed is a challenge, but understandable; not having a plane available should never happen,” said Rustad, adding that if there are not enough provincial planes available, other options such as private plans should be explored.

Seven airplanes and four helicopters are currently available to transfer rural patients across the province. Contractors are also utilized on an as-needed basis.

However, BCEHS does not have statistics on how long rural patients usually wait before being transferred. BCEHS also does not keep statistics on how often they have to prioritize urgent cases due to a lack of available aircraft.

“I will be following up with the new minister of health to ask these questions and find out if health services for the north are a priority and whether [emergency cardiac] services in Prince George are being considered,” said Rustad.

According to the Ministry of Health, concept planning development for the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia (UHNBC) in Prince George is underway. The plan will explore improvements to perioperative, mental health and cardiac care. Cardiac Services B.C. is currently working with Northern Health to help inform how cardiac care will be incorporated into the plan.

“When the improvements to the Prince George hospital [UHNBC] are approved, this [need for a trauma centre that is able to provide emergency and specialized cardiac treatment] needs to be a priority along with upgraded surgery facilities and other improvements,” said Rustad. “In the short term, there needs to be a review of the air ambulance service.”

In northern B.C., there are 24 acute care facilities within communities across the region, many of which do not offer 24/7 services or emergency surgical intervention. Andrea Palmer, a spokesperson for Northern Health, said patient transportation is therefore an essential part of the health services provided in northern B.C.

Northern Health has three trauma-accredited hospitals, including UHNBC, Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, and the Fort St. John Hospital.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said they are committed to improving patient care for all British Columbians, no matter where they live.

“We will do this by investing in new and existing public health care facilities, so we can start to relieve the pressure that many of our hospitals feel and ensure that all British Columbians are able to access public health care when they need it.”

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