February 23, 2010 at 4:37 PM
Nanaimo News Bulletin
Liberals explore private ambulance service
By Rachel Stern - Nanaimo News Bulletin
Published: February 22, 2010 3:00 PM
Updated: February 23, 2010 10:21 AM
While paramedics are busy hammering out a new contract at the bargaining table, the province is exploring options that could change the delivery of ambulance service.
The Ministry of Health Services recently launched a consultation process to explore three options discussed in Chris Trumpy’s industrial inquiry report – closer integration with the health system, closer integration with other emergency service providers and private sector service delivery.
The ministry is consulting with government, health sector unions, emergency health service providers and the private sector.
John Hosie, a Nanaimo paramedic and regional vice-president of the Ambulance and Paramedics of B.C., CUPE Local 873, said paramedics are happy with the existing model and want the government to work with the union to fix it.
The B.C. Ambulance Service budget rose 75 per cent over the last eight years from $181 million to an estimated $310 million.
But Hosie said he’d like to know where that money is going, because its not going into wages or expanding the service.
“The health minister and other colleagues in the current government think of this system as an albatross and want to get rid of it,” said Hosie.
“I just hope the government doesn’t scuttle the process. We’ve all been working hard to work out an agreement.”
The current contract – imposed by legislation before Christmas – expires March 31.
Last year when the paramedics were days away from voting on a contract, the government legislated them back to work, saying the service was needed because of the H1N1 pandemic.
Paramedics said it was about options during the Olympics.
The Ministry of Health Services’ position is that leaving things as they are is not an option.
The union isn’t speculating if the current model will be changed, said Hosie, but if it went to private-sector delivery, the bottom line would be the dollar, not patient care. Right now people in an emergency feel confident they can phone an ambulance, he said, but privatization could cause people to pause and think about cost.
The ministry has said it is committed to a provincially co-ordinated system of ambulance service delivery.
Hosie said that could mean a central office that oversees regulations and standards but that service could still be fragmented under different jurisdictions, like health authorities, around the province.