Volume 96, Issue 20
Wednesday October 2, 2002

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A matter of life and death
London's ambulance response flounders

By Cheryl Van Der Mark
Gazette Staff

A lack of financial resources is having an affect on ambulance response times in the City of London.

Response times for life threatening calls now extend past nine minutes, taking longer than the 1996 provincial guideline of eight minutes, said Ron Liersch, general manager of Thames Emergency Medical Services.

"A minute really does make a difference," Liersch said, adding there is growing concern that a one minute wait can mean the difference between life and death for someone with serious injuries or experiencing cardiac arrest.

There has been an increase in the volume of calls in the London area from 37,000 to 50,000, Liersch said, attributing the figures to an aging population needing increased medical attention. "It's going to get worse, not better," he added.

The system has been underfunded since 1996 and, without an increase in resources, ambulance response time will continue to climb, Liersch said.

This feeling is echoed by Jon Dreyer, director of the Base Hospital program for Middlesex, Elgin, Oxford and Perth counties. Money should be provided in order to bring response times back to within eight minutes, he said.

On Aug. 20, 2002, the provincial government announced a $32.5 million funding influx in order to improve ambulance response times, manpower, paramedics, ambulances and to hire and improve the training of dispatchers, said David Jensen, media relations co-ordinator for the Ontario Ministry of Health.

"The London-Middlesex portion of that is $745,000," he added.

"If confronted with a life threatening situation, [the delay in the ambulance response time] could be a serious problem," said Julie Andrassy, executive director of the Student Emergency Response Team at Western.

SERT currently has the capacity to provide higher care first aid and advanced life support, including cardiac emergency and defibrillation, she said.

Their response time is within two and a half minutes, Andrassy said, adding SERT received roughly 204 calls last year, half of which required an ambulance and paramedics.

"The general public doesn't know [about the times]; they are unaware, until it happens to them or a loved one," Liersch explained.

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2002 THE GAZETTE