The Emergency Health Services (EHS) logo on a white ambulance. The E and S are royal blue, the S is red. Emergency Health Services is written below in italic font, and the word paramedics is below that in blue capital letters on a high visibility green stripe.
The Emergency Health Services (EHS) logo on an ambulance. Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

A new initiative launching Wednesday is expected to get paramedics and ambulances out of hospital emergency departments and back on the road faster to respond more quickly to emergency calls.

In a media release Tuesday morning, the Department of Health and Wellness said the Emergency Health Services (EHS) “direct to triage” initiative will see paramedics taking low-risk patients to emergency department waiting rooms to be assessed by health care staff rather than waiting with patients until a doctor takes over care.

A low-risk patient is described as someone with normal vital signs who can sit, stand, or move independently without risk of falling.

Paramedics will still wait in emergency departments with high-risk patients, including those with chest pain, potentially life-threatening injuries, suspected stroke, and children under the age of 16.

“Paramedics are a vital part of our healthcare system. We need to make sure their time is spent responding to emergencies,” Michelle Thompson, Minister of Health and Wellness, said in the release.

“This policy balances the safety of patients who can wait to be seen by emergency department staff and getting our paramedics back on the streets sooner.”

In February, members of the union representing paramedics told the Standing Committee on Public Accounts that the province’s paramedics were burnt out, desperately needed better working conditions and pay, and that the system was “nearing the point of failure.”

The Department of Health and Wellness said the direct to triage policy is one of “several initiatives” designed to take pressure off the EHS system, improve ambulance offload times, and improve working conditions for paramedics.

“Watching calls join the queue while you wait with a low-risk patient in hospital is hard. When our paramedics are able to get back into their communities sooner, that benefits everyone,” Kevin MacMullin, Business Manager, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 727, said in Tuesday’s media release.

“We are hopeful that this new policy is a positive step toward getting our paramedics back to doing what they do best – responding to emergencies.”

Other initiatives expected to help and highlighted in the news release include:

  • expansion of the Medical Transport Service and Patient Transfer Units, which reduces reliance on ambulances to transport low-risk patients who don’t need medical oversight during transport
  • increasing the EHS budget by almost $12 million for 2022-2023
  • continuing to implement recommendations from the Fitch report on ambulance service in the province
  • the purchase and installation of power loaders and power stretchers in all ambulances
  • the creation of a temporary license, in partnership with the College of Paramedics of Nova Scotia, so graduating paramedics can start working sooner while waiting to write licensing exams
  • new vehicles and staff to double patient transfer capacity and enable paramedics to focus on emergencies
  • establishing an Employee Advisory Council
  • working collaboratively with the employer and paramedic schools on recruitment and retention

“Our hope is this (direct to triage) initiative results in paramedic crews being released from hospitals more efficiently to respond to medical emergencies provincewide while ensuring no disruption to quality patient care,” Charbel Daniel, executive director of provincial operations, EHS Operations, said in the release.

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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