© Guardian photo
Island EMS ambulance
Patients transferred from one hospital to another will no longer be charged ambulance fees, the P.E.I. government announced Friday.
Health Minister Doug Currie said patients shouldnât be burdened with the cost of the ambulance, they should be focused on their recovery
âWe want to get people, particularly our most sick Islanders, getting in through the emergency room and getting placed into a hospital bed as quickly as we possibly can,â Currie said.
âAs a result of that, when we transfer individuals to other facilities, there was some confusion on the cost and the payer, so this announcement today clarifies that all inter-hospital transfers are covered by the province.â
Last spring, Currie announced changes to the way hospitals are utilized across P.E.I.
Patients treated at acute-care hospitals such as the QEH who need ongoing recovery time in hospital are now transferred by ambulance to one of the smaller rural hospitals for their extended care.
But this raised questions about who would pay the $150 ambulance fee for these transfers, especially since the transfers were not being made at the request of the patients but as a result of a change in government policy.
Currie said Friday effective immediately, all ambulance transfers between hospitals will be provided free of charge.
Ambulance rides for scheduled and unscheduled appointments at alternate hospital locations will also be free for patients.
Questions about who would pay these ambulance fees were raised months ago, when the changes to the way rural hospitals would be utilized were first announced.
Opposition MLAs pushed Currie in the legislature, but received no concrete responses.
âIt shows the plan was rushed through,â Opposition Health Critic Colin LaVie said Friday.
âIf you remember they had it in their election campaign to eliminate ambulance fees, and they havenât done anything on it since.â
When asked why it has taken eight months to determine whether the province would pay for inter-provincial ambulance transfers, Currie responded by pointing out P.E.I.âs health system is currently facing a large number of pressures.
âThis was an extensive piece of work that was done by Health P.E.I.â
The change in the use of rural hospitals may free up more beds in acute care facilities, but it also increases the number of ambulance transfers.
There are now approximately 15 to 20 inter-provincial ambulance transfers happening every day in P.E.I., Currie said.
Despite this increase in transfers and the added costs associated with them, the department does not expect to see a negative impact on its budget.
It says the exercise will be cost neutral due to cost efficiencies that will occur from increased capacity in both the acute care hospitals and in the ambulances themselves - the new transfer ambulance can transfer up to four patients at a time.
âThat should offset the approximately $100,000 that would no longer be collected from the (ambulance) fee,â a department spokeswoman told The Guardian in an email.
âThere is a fiscal impact to this change, which is a cost to the system. So we always look at ways that we can mitigate those costs,â Currie explained.
A new ambulance dedicated solely to transferring patients from one hospital to another will hit the roads in P.E.I. next month.
This unit will free up other ambulances to respond to emergencies. It will also help keep other ambulances in Island communities.
It will begin transferring patients early in January.
âOur focus has been to protect our acute care beds, especially at the QEH and the PCH, for our most sick Islanders,â Currie said.
âThis new transfer ambulance will further strengthen emergency services in our province.â