CTV News Article

B.C. paramedic staffing now ‘critical’ as ambulance wait times reach 2 hours: union

VANCOUVER — B.C.’s paramedics union says staffing levels across the province are now “critical,” causing ambulances to sit empty and wait times to balloon.

President of Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C. Troy Clifford said this past weekend was “the worst of the last couple of weeks,” with about 30 ambulances unstaffed Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights in Metro Vancouver.

“Some emergency calls were waiting up to two hours for response time, just because no ambulances to send,” Clifford said in an interview with CTV News.

It’s not the first time the union has raised concerns about staff shortages. Just last week Clifford warned wait times had reached one hour for some emergency calls and more than two dozen ambulances were left empty. They’re calling on their management to acknowledge the problem, and work with them to find solutions to filling vacancies and recruiting.

In response to the concerns, B.C. Emergency Health Services provided a written statement to CTV News stressing that only a small handful of urgent calls left people waiting more than an hour over the weekend.

The BCEHS said median response times for code “purple” calls – which indicates an immediate threat to life – was seven minutes, 53 seconds in Vancouver on Saturday.

“We know it can be incredibly stressful waiting for an ambulance during a medical emergency. We can assure B.C. residents paramedics continue to get to critical patients and prioritize our responses based on the medical priority dispatch system used around the world,” a spokesperson said in an email.

BCEHS also disputed that around 30 ambulances were left unstaffed over the weekend, indicating that the number of ambulances out of service fluctuated between seven and 17.

Last week, BCEHS’s chief operating officer Darlene MacKinnon insisted that staffing levels in the Lower Mainland are stable, and denied any issues around recruiting.

Clifford said that claim is wrong and it “doesn’t support the people out there doing the work.”

Across B.C., paramedics respond to up to 1,700 calls a day, most in the Lower Mainland. Clifford fears if the staffing issues are not addressed soon, one of those calls may go unanswered.

“We really do not want to see a tragic situation or a delay of a response to someone in their time of need or emergency, that’s not what paramedics do, that’s not what dispatchers do,” he said. “We all got into this business to look after our patients.”