News release

Statement on Auditor General’s Report on Ground Ambulance Service

NOTE: The following is a statement from Michelle Thompson, Minister of Health and Wellness.

Today, the Auditor General’s Office released its report on Nova Scotia’s ground ambulance service.

The report confirms what we already know: There are system pressures and challenges affecting ambulance response times that must be addressed.

As a government, we couldn’t agree more.

Since 2021, we have made significant improvements in emergency care across the province by investing in people, equipment, technology and changes in policy.

What we have achieved so far is just the beginning. We will do more and that starts by accepting all 14 recommendations in the Auditor General’s report. Some of these recommendations are already complete, others are in progress, but all will be implemented.

As we work with our partners to implement all the recommendations, I want to take the opportunity to share the work that’s been done over the past two years.

We expanded the Emergency Health Services (EHS) fleet with more patient transfer units, medical transport service vehicles, single paramedic response units and a new LifeFlight airplane. They have made a big difference in keeping ambulances focused on responding to emergencies.

For example, as of August, about 86 per cent of patient transfers are handled by patient transfer units, compared with 14 per cent by emergency ambulances. That is an increase and decrease of 10 percentage points, respectively, over the last year.

Our single paramedic response units help to divert people away from emergency rooms by treating and discharging patients on the scene. On average, these units respond to more than 1,000 calls each month, and about half of those calls don’t require a hospital visit, which frees up ambulances for more urgent calls.

We launched our new LifeFlight plane in August, and it’s already making a difference. Transporting non-critical care patients from Yarmouth or Sydney to Halifax, it has saved more than 920 hours of ground ambulance time. Instead of day-long round trips to Halifax transporting patients, these ambulances and paramedics are staying in their communities to provide emergency services. This benefits patients and our paramedics.

To support our paramedics and keep their important skills focused on emergency calls, we hired more than 140 transport operators to staff many of the new units.

We also added a registered nurse to the EHS Medical Communications Centre. The nurse works alongside a clinical support paramedic and physician to give medical advice and treatment options to callers. Our communications centre is one of the few in Canada to have all three of those healthcare professionals embedded.

Last year, we implemented a direct-to-triage policy that supports paramedics to take low-risk patients to the emergency department waiting room to be assessed by healthcare staff. Previously, paramedics had to wait with patients until a doctor took over their care.

We are making it easier and more attractive for people to become paramedics in Nova Scotia by offering more training opportunities, tuition rebates and incentives. It has never been a better time to start training in paramedicine.

Improving the delivery of emergency care for Nova Scotians requires investments and support for other areas of the healthcare system.

Nova Scotia Health, with support of the government, is improving access and flow in hospitals with initiatives like the Care Coordination Centre, the first provincewide command centre in Canada that gives healthcare teams information on bed availability, ambulance offloads and patient transfers. The command centre enables staff and physicians to spend more time providing care instead of co-ordinating it, directly addressing the need for faster access to care.

And there’s SAFER-f, an initiative focused on improvements like completing lab tests sooner, better co-ordinating healthcare teams and improving communication with families and patients, all of which help patients to return home sooner.

Increasing evening and weekend access to services such as physiotherapists, dietitians, pharmacists, occupational therapists and discharge planners also helps patients reduce their length of stay.

And we are building. Many hospital beds are being used by patients who could be better served in long-term care or could be monitored effectively outside of the hospital with the right set-up. That’s why we are building long-term care homes across the province and transition to care beds in key areas. This will ensure people get to the care they need in the right place.

I would like to speak directly to those who work in our Emergency Health Services system – our paramedics, doctors, nurses, administrators and all the professionals who are working hard to provide us care.

As a nurse, I know working in healthcare isn’t always easy. The days are long, and the work can be demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. Yet, every day, you come to work ready to help people in their moment of need. For that, we all thank you for your dedication and service.

We will continue to focus on improving your working conditions, improving offload times, getting ambulances back on the road faster and working together to get Nova Scotians the care they need.