Lifeflight Privatization putting Lives at Risk, Auditor General Should Investigate

June 17, 2019

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Liberals say the privatization of Manitoba's Lifeflight air ambulance is putting Manitobans' safety at risk and are formally requesting Manitoba's Auditor General launch an investigation into the privatization.

Dougald Lamont, Leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party and MLA for St. Boniface, says the Auditor General's investigation is necessary because of "very serious concerns" around the Pallister Government's decision, including financial risks to government, patient safety, failure to consult, ignoring expert medical advice, and a lack of transparency when it comes to contracting.

The Manitoba Liberals say the PCs government-wide policy of "cuts by attrition" - refusing to replace people who quit or retire - has led to shortages of pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers for the air ambulance program.

In 2017, a lack of pilots was linked to a patient's death at St. Theresa Point. Recently, the service was down for three days.

"The Pallister Government is telling tens of thousands of Manitobans who live outside Winnipeg and Brandon that they are going to have to wait up to twice as long for an air ambulance that can no longer travel over bad weather," said Lamont. "Manitobans need to know the details of why the Pallister Government has ignored medical advice, issued secret contracts, and how their cuts are putting an essential emergency medical service at risk."

Manitoba Liberals say the public Lifeflight air ambulance service is essential because there are no fully functional ICUs outside of Winnipeg and Brandon. Lifeflight takes experienced medical personnel straight to patients who are seriously sick or injured and can start providing care on arrival in dozens of communities that aren't equipped for emergency care and medical crises.

Liberals say the Pallister changes mean that:

  • More than 20 fly-in First Nations that have gravel runways will be cut off from jet service
  • Propeller planes used instead of jet planes will cause a major increase in transport time to northern and rural communities across Manitoba, when every extra minute means greater risk for a patient in distress
  • Propeller planes cannot travel above the weather and are too loud for doctors to communicate while caring for the patient
  • Doubling travel time will result in further delays in the system since pilots and doctors are required to take mandated breaks that will lengthen any delays

Because the Lifeflight program serves First Nation communities and is paid for in part by the Federal Government, the province's failure to properly consult and provide appropriate service may jeopardize $90-million in Federal funding.

Last year, Minister of Infrastructure Ron Schuler promised the privatization of Lifeflight would only proceed if it did not compromise patient safety. Manitoba Liberal Health Critic Dr. Jon Gerrard said it is clear the Pallister Government has broken yet another promise.

"We have heard from experts in the health system across Manitoba that the Pallister Government acted recklessly and precipitously to shut down the use of the Citation Jets on June 6. The result was three days without Lifeflight service. Service interruptions are continuing because the government acted without a 'Plan B' to keep patients safe," said Gerrard. "This government needs to immediately stop the privatization, affirm it will remain a public service, and properly support it as a public service."



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