Privatization of air ambulance leads to service delays

The Manitoba government’s plan to privatize the province’s air ambulance service has taken another step forward, but this time with negative implications.

The government laid off nine pilots and a ground crew on June 26 after announcing they would no longer be using publiclyowned jets to complete air ambulance flights on June 6.

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Lifeflight doctors refused to board the new jets, citing safety concerns. Lifeflight doctors have now begrudgingly agreed to fly on the new jets.

The physicians and nurses working on air ambulance flights have long opposed privatization, and made it clear in a 2018 letter to the government they wouldn’t work in a fully privatized environment.

“We, the medical staff of Lifeflight Manitoba air ambulance, wish to make it clear that we are not prepared to work in an environment that provides substandard patient care and increases risk to patients and providers,” the doctor’s letter reads.

Half of the province’s 2018 air ambulance flights were completed using the publicly-owned jets. The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU) filed a group grievance on behalf of the fired workers.

The union has also been opposed to privatizing the air ambulance service.

“The government has put the system in chaos and it’s completely of their own creation,” MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said. “This was an excellent public service with an impeccable safety record and they’ve turned it all upside down because of ideology, because they would prefer to see a corporation profit from this service. It’s that simple.”

Both Shared Health and Lifeflight did not respond to requests for comment from The Reminder.

Air ambulance service is necessary for communities more than 200 kilometers away from Winnipeg, to transport patients who need urgent care to facilities the city. Anything closer is covered by helicopter.

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