On Thursday, the Quebec government announced almost $630 million over five years to fund various measures aimed at improving ambulance services.

The Quebec ambulance services corporation (CSAQ) said it welcomed the announcement, but believes it is insufficient to improve ambulance coverage across the province.

Among the amounts announced by Health Minister Christian Dubé, $5.9 million will be earmarked specifically for improving ambulance service in four regions: Laurentides, Mauricie-Centre-du-Québec, Montérégie-Centre and Chaudière-Appalaches.

More specifically, this funding will be used to convert shift schedules and add hours of service in order to reduce response times.

In a news release, the CSAQ welcomed the minister's desire to focus on improving ambulance services.

However, it maintains that the amounts promised "are clearly insufficient to improve ambulance response times and ambulance coverage throughout Quebec." The organization also deplores the fact that the five-year plan does not include any additional ambulances.

"It's a well-known fact that to reduce ambulance response times, there have to be more vehicles on the road," said Dr. Sébastien Toussaint, president of the CSAQ, in a release.

The corporation estimates that the $5.9 million for this year will "cover only a tiny fraction of immediate needs."

"Once again, many requests for additional ambulances or hours of service for regions with particularly pressing needs have gone unanswered," the CSAQ said.

It maintains that the initiatives announced on Thursday cannot guarantee a significant reduction in response times or make up for coverage shortfalls in pre-hospital emergency services and is calling for a significant and predictable increase in ambulance services.

Reducing ambulance time in hospital

The government action plan for Quebec's pre-hospital emergency system includes funding for defibrillators.

Quebec will invest $3.5 million over five years to set up a bill governing public access to automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and their registration. The government hopes to deploy 1,000 AEDs and set up a provincial register to geolocate the devices that citizens can use.

In its plan, the Ministry of Health also hopes to increase the number of first responder services by investing $92.7 million over five years.

With this funding, it hopes to encourage municipalities to set up more first responder services, and the ministry also wants to analyze needs in all regions, including off-road areas, to ensure a systemic response throughout Quebec.

Currently, 50 per cent of Quebec's population is covered by a first responder service, and the government's objective is to reach 80 per cent by 2028.

A total of $7.65 million over five years will be dedicated to reducing the time spent by ambulance resources in hospital centres. According to the ministry, the average time for a pre-hospital intervention between departure to the place of care and departure from the hospital emergency department is currently 100 minutes, of which 50 minutes are spent in hospital, and more than 55 minutes in Montreal, Quebec City, Laval and Gatineau.

The ministry has set a target of 45 minutes by 2026 and calculates that this could recover the equivalent of 50,000 hours of ambulance availability.

The government has also announced the creation of the first four helipads, which will be located at the Centre hospitalier régional de Lanaudière in Joliette, the Roberval Hospital, the McGill University Health Centre and the Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur in Montreal.

Quebec remains the only Canadian province without public helicopter medical transport, and the Ministry of Health hopes to remedy this by establishing standards of care and management for air medical transport. It also promises to create a call centre for air transport.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Feb. 29, 2024.

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