Residents living west of Montreal have concerns about their ambulance services after trips to the closest hospitals have been drastically reduced.

As of last summer, non-essential ambulance trips made by the Monteregie ambulance service, CETAM, from off-island neighbourhoods are directed to a hospital in Valleyfield, not the Lakeshore Hospital in Pointe Claire.

For off-island residents like Paul Dubois, the distance is nearly twice as far, and more expensive.

On Feb. 20, Dubois was in excruciating pain due to a back injury, and called an ambulance from his home in Pincourt. He was driven to the Suroit Hospital Centre in Valleyfield, 31 kilometres away – not to the Lakeshore, which is less than 18 kilometres from his home.

"I told him I'm not having a heart attack, and I said I'm not dying, or not bleeding to death, it's just that I thought you have a preference to go to the hospital you're familiar with," said Dubois, who on two previous occasions, had been driven to the Lakeshore.

The Monteregie Health Agency says the policy reduces the patient load on Lakeshore, while better managing off-island resources.

"If ambulances are allowed to go anywhere in Montreal or anywhere in Monteregie, in many situations there will be no more ambulances in Vaudreuil-Soulanges," said Jean Rodrigue, medical director of the Montérégie Health and Social Services Agency.

Even Dubois concedes that despite paying more for the trip, the service he received was excellent.

"I don't even know if I would have seen a doctor that fast at Lakeshore. I saw a doctor within five minutes and ten minutes later they gave me a shot of morphine to kill the pain and they monitored me the whole day," he said.

The new policy only applies to non-urgent cases, and even then allows for exceptions.

"In specific conditions where the patient has been at that hospital for a specific reason - for a cardiac problem, for example - and if he calls again for a cardiac problem, then he surely will be transported again to his hospital in Montreal," said CETAM ambulance paramedic Patrick Jasmin.