03/13/2014 22:53 EDT | Updated 05/13/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. Ambulance Service changes mean slower response times

A Burnaby city councillor and former firefighter is sounding alarms after changes to B.C. Ambulance Service protocols slowed emergency response times.

Last October, the BCAS changed more than 70 services from Code 3 — requiring a lights and sirens response — to routine Code 2 responses so it can reach critical calls faster. Some of those services include fainting, falls, hemorrhage or miscarriage, and trauma injury.

"We're able to respond to our critically ill patients about a minute faster than we were prior," said Dr. William Dick with B.C. Emergency Health Services, the agency that oversees BCAS.

"There were some calls that clearly we were over responding to with lights and sirens, and that could be safely responded to without lights and sirens. Again, it's important to remember that we are still responding to every call we get." 

Dick said the changes also improve safety on the roads.

"Whenever there's Code 3 driving, there is an increased risk to the public, to the paramedics and to the patients. We felt by decreasing our Code 3 ... in those calls where it wasn't required that we would increase safety."

However, Burnaby city councillor and former Vancouver firefighter Paul McDonell disagrees.

"Prior to them implementing this, our wait times for our firefighters on scene was six minutes and 28 seconds. ... Two months following the implementation, we're now at nine minutes plus. And it's going to grow," said McDonell.

He also said roads are no safer than they were before.

"In their report, they're saying they're downgrading these because of safety for the public for amount of accidents. We did some research they had two accidents in Metro Vancouver in the last four years," he said.

'No change in patient outcomes'

B.C. Emergency Health Services admits wait times have increased for non-critical calls since the changes were implemented.

"On average, again, the increase wait for the non-critical calls is about a six minute increase since implementation. There's no change in patient outcomes based on our review of the data," said Dick.

But McDonell says that kind of logic is cold comfort for someone in an emergency situation.

"If your child is suffocating or if your child is bleeding or in a convulsion or whatever is one of these calls that they've downgraded ... before you'd get them in maybe six to eight or nine minutes. Now it might take you an hour to get them. Do you want your child to go through that?"

The province says it will be reviewing the changes next month.