Friday 19 March 1999

Bring in paramedics

The Gazette

One of the most exasperating of all public health-care issues has to be the quality of ambulance service in the Montreal region.

In Cote St. Luc, a municipality with one of the highest percentages of senior citizens in the province, municipal officials have documented the atrocious performance of Urgences Sante ambulances, including chronic delays and a response time that averages far longer than Urgences officials have claimed.

The provincial auditor-general said recently that, among other things, ambulance technicians in Quebec are receiving inadequate training and are allowed to perform too few emergency procedures on patients while transporting them to hospitals.

Several years ago, the provincial government responded to criticism by increasing the training for technicians, but this instruction still lags far behind the norm for North American cities. Quebec still does not train them to become true paramedics capable of starting intravenous lines and administering numerous medications, including things as basic as asthma medication or nitroglycerine. Because they can’t get this kind of elementary aid before reaching the hospital, some people die needlessly.

What makes this all the more appalling is that successive Liberal and Parti Quebecois governments have never given cogent reasons for refusing to upgrade the technicians to the status of paramedics.

If the government did license paramedics, it would have to pay the personnel more, but that has not kept almost all other parts of Canada and the United States from doing so. These other jurisdictions realize that saving lives is worth the investment.

Two-thirds of the municipalities of the MUC have passed resolutions calling for paramedics to be allowed to practice in Quebec. When will the provincial government start listening?

Health Minister Pauline Marois has said that she will respond to the auditor-general’s report in May. The least she should do is hold public hearings on the issue. It would be prudent to examine all aspects of paramedical care in the light of the experiences of other provinces and states.

For anyone who suddenly is a victim of a car crash or heart attack, care by paramedics can be a matter of life and death. It is not too much to expect Ms. Marois to act.

©1998 The Gazette