Ambulance operators in the province will now have more solid rules to follow after legislation passed in the House of Assembly on Wednesday.
Health Minister John Haggie says previously, much of the policy that governed how paramedical services were delivered in the province were only policies. The Emergency Health and Paramedicine Services Act puts those policies into law, giving the government more power to enforce rules.
“It legislates existing policy and codifies them under the act and gives them the force of law and regulations under law,” said Haggie.
“Where there were instances of non-compliance, we had little recourse.”
A number of reports released in recent years called for more oversight, particularly for private ambulance providers in the province. A Grant Thornton report released in June showed funding for some ambulance providers was unaccounted. That report showed 77 per cent of ambulance providers were not meeting minimum staffing requirements, for example.
Haggie says the government now has the ability to enforce the laws and crack down on wrongdoers in the system. Fines can be issued and ambulance providers can lose their licences, if the situation is severe enough, under the new legislation.
Previously, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) handled issuing ambulance licences, just as it does for busing and taxi companies, for example. The legislation will take that authority away from the PUB and give it to the Department of Health, which provides the funding for ambulance operators – something ambulance providers have been seeking for years.
“We have at least two instances of individuals or groups that have a licence that have no funding arrangement. It makes no business sense for operators to apply for one, not knowing if you’ll get the other,” said Haggie.
“This ties the two together.”
An inspector can also be appointed under the new legislation, allowing reviews of emergency medical vehicles. The inspector can also look at the books for each company to ensure compliance with the legislation.
Rodney Gaudet, president of the Paramedic Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, calls the changes a good “first step” in reforming the ambulance and paramedicine services in the province.
“This is the framework of it all. Now, we need to look at the standards and regulations for this legislation moving forward,” said Gaudet.
“We do have the procurement issues currently on the go for March 1, 2020. We look forward to working with government.”
The government is undertaking a full top-to-bottom review of the ambulance system. Haggie has previously stated his eyes are fully open in the review that could totally reshape the ambulance service model in the province over the next year and a half.