Increase in emergency wait times labelled ‘a crime’
A campaigner for patients rights has branded a shake-up of the emergency services that will result in an increase in ambulance wait times as a “crime”.
Mark Selley, head of the Bermuda Health Care Advocacy Group, insisted the Government must make funding ambulances a priority after the Bermuda Hospitals Board warned of the fallout from changes to services.
Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service frontline workers have stated that focusing resources on LF Wade International Airport means reduced emergency availability elsewhere.
The BHB said emergency call-outs would be extended because of restructuring measures.
The organisation said the changes would increase the number of hospital ambulance call-outs by up to 25 per cent, adding that it was expected this would result in longer wait times.
Mr Selley told TheRoyal Gazette: “It’s a crime.
“This creates the potential to put lives at risk. There is no excuse for this. It’s an emergency service that people depend on — and we should be concentrating resources on it.
“The Government manages to find money for everything else — like filling all those Civil Service jobs — they must find money for this, too.”
He added: “This has to be a priority. Make this the priority; not filling all those Civil Service posts.”
The Opposition criticised the Government for previously directing inquiries on the matter from The Royal Gazette to the BHB and the BFRS.
Michael Dunkley, the One Bermuda Alliance’s Shadow Minister of Health, said: “They are the ones who control the funding. They need to take responsibility for this themselves.”
Mr Dunkley has described Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security, as “missing in action”. However, a government spokeswoman accused the Opposition of “scaremongering”.
She said: “The Ministry of National Security reiterates that the safety, security and protection of the people of Bermuda is its paramount priority and assures the community that emergency services are readily available to assist and attend to any emergency call around the island.
“The ministry remains focused and in continued discussions with the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service on this critical matter.
“The ministry will not be drawn on the Opposition’s scaremongering commentary.
“To preserve the integrity of the BFRS discussions, it would be irresponsible for the ministry to comment further.”
The change in ambulance service came two weeks after the firefighters union, Bermuda Fire Service Association, warned that two stations on the island could close owing to the switch to shift resources to the airport.
Talks have been continuing between the union and Mr Weeks after the minister denied its claims that two fire stations would be closed to enable sufficient cover at the airport.
Firefighters are used as first responders to many collisions and other health emergencies, and provide emergency medical services at the scene and transport to the hospital in some cases.
A BHB spokeswoman has said: “The Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service is providing a first-responder service for east and west from Port Royal and Clearwater during the day and night, but will not be able to assist with transports back to the hospital.
“We estimate this change will increase the number of calls BHB responds to by about 20 to 25 per cent.
“We expect it will likely extend wait times, as our existing staff and ambulance fleet will have to attend to more calls.”
A BFSA letter to Mr Weeks, previously reported by The Royal Gazette, referred to a meeting on March 15 at which the association stated that Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service senior managers told staff about the changes that would come into force on April 1, making the Airport Operations Department “the focus of the 2023-24 budget allocation for the BFRS”.
The fire service’s Budget for this year is $14.9 million, a $1.7 million increase on the original 2022 Budget, but a $2.1 million decrease from the $17 million that was actually spent after additional overseas firefighters had to be hired to cover the airport.
The BFSA also stated that the halting of “acting up” of officers to the level of sergeant meant there would not be enough senior staff to keep all three fire stations open.
Coupled with the ending of operational overtime and reassigning posts to the airport division, this would mean delays in call-out times of up to one hour with services centralised in Hamilton, leaving the east and west of the island without dedicated coverage, said the BFSA.
The BFSA letter stated that the impact could mean: “Potential loss of life and property. The inability to recall staff to cover shortages and limiting acting-up will cause up to two stations to close.”
The fire service and the BFSA have been contacted for comment.
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