Patient access to emergency health services needs improvement: BC Auditor General

Auditor General Carol Bellringer

THE Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia on Wednesday released a new report, “Access to Emergency Health Services,”and said that overall, it found that the British Columbia Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) is effectively managing access to ambulance and emergency health services in some areas.

“However, performance against key targets for patient care is in need of improvement, and co-ordination of access to emergency health services with fire departments needs to be strengthened,” it added.

For example, BCEHS sometimes takes longer than it would like to reaching patients requiring time-critical care. This increases the risk that some patients do not receive the care they need, when they need it.

“BCEHS is in the midst of a transformational change of its service to better match its resources to patient needs,” said Carol Bellringer, Auditor General. “This includes increasing the number of paramedics and ambulances, as well as introducing a new dispatch approach, with the goal of shortening response times for patients who need care the most.”

Also, BCEHS is pursuing alternatives to traditional emergency response for patients who do not require transport to a hospital. This includes options such as providing medical advice over the phone, transporting patients to a health clinic or having paramedics provide treatment in private homes or the community.

The goal of BCEHS is to ensure that patients receive timely and appropriate access to emergency care in every community throughout the province.

BCEHS works with fire departments in a number of ways, but its collaboration efforts have not resulted in a co-ordinated approach to accessing emergency health services around the province. Improved co-ordination with fire departments is needed to support consistent application of medical standards, information sharing, and improvements to patient care.

For a number of reasons, improving co-ordination will not be easy. One challenge is that fire department first responders are employed by local governments, while BCEHS is part of the provincial government. Further, BCEHS and some municipalities have different views on how fire department first responders can best support BCEHS in providing effective access to emergency health services. Support from the provincial government may be needed to improve co-ordination between BCEHS and fire department first responders throughout the province.

In British Columbia, BCEHS is responsible for the delivery, co-ordination and governance of emergency health services, including call intake and dispatch.

The full report is available on the Office of the Auditor General website at: