There have been 587 instances in 2023 so far where an ambulance hasn’t been immediately available for someone in need, according to the province.
That includes 440 instances between Feb. 1 and May 9, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said.
“This does not mean an ambulance was not dispatched,” a statement from the province read.
“If a local ambulance is not immediately available, the SHA dispatches the next closest ambulance.”
The NDP opposition said that those numbers may not tell the whole story as the province’s biggest city is not included in that count.
“That doesn’t even include Saskatoon as the province’s biggest city, so we really don’t have a clear picture of the province-wide numbers,” NDP MLA and remote health critic Matt Love told reporters following question period on Tuesday.
“But in those communities served by SHA ambulance service, 587 calls for an ambulance. Somebody in their biggest time of need and there wasn’t an ambulance available.”
Health minister Paul Merriman admitted the situation was “not ideal” but reiterated that ambulances were getting to those in need, but admitted they were delayed in some cases.
“I think the opposition was characterizing that if there is no ambulance available at that specific time then they’re not showing up. That is not accurate at all. They are showing up, they’re just showing up maybe a little later than that initial call,” he explained.
“It’s not ideal but that’s why we started investing last year in rural Saskatchewan. With more ambulances, more EMTs and advanced care paramedics. It’s also why we’ve got our human resource strategy to get individuals into these professions.”
Merriman went on to say that policies such as “treat and release” are meant to keep EMS personnel available to respond to incoming calls, rather than being tied up at hospitals.
“We are looking at making sure we have a good complement of ambulances so they can not only pick up the patient, [but also] drop them off where appropriate and then get back to their home community or their home station,” he said.
According to Love and the NDP, the government is not recognizing the severity of the issue.
“I heard the premier and the health minister minimize these conditions that Saskatchewan people find themselves in,” Love said.
“I heard the premier say that it’s just a few minutes to wait. We know that’s not true. We’ve had individuals come here who waited more than an hour while they thought that they might be dying and they called their family members to say goodbye. That’s totally unacceptable to see the Premier of Saskatchewan minimize that as a few minutes.”
According to the NDP, at its current rate Saskatchewan could see about 1700 instances where an ambulance was not immediately available by the end of 2023.