The Ottawa Paramedic Services are struggling under an increasing need for ambulances

A new report says soaring demand for ambulances is crippling the Ottawa Paramedic Service’s resources and putting the lives of patients at risk — particularly those most in need of urgent care.

The service review, scheduled to be tabled at the city’s community and protective services committee on Thursday, paints a grim picture of the state of paramedic service in Ottawa.

Over the last five years, the OPS has seen response volumes increase by nearly 25 per cent. Ambulances were called out 133,965 times in 2015 alone – a five per cent increase over the previous year.

“This volume is a clear indicator that the demand for the Paramedic Service is increasing year-over-year and is outpacing staffing levels and vehicle availability,” the report states.

In March, city council approved the hiring of a dozen new paramedics in an effort to improve response times and offset the impact of resources being diverted from rural communities to more urban areas of the city.

The report also reveals that, for the first time, the OPS failed to meet council-set standards for response times. Making matters worse, the failures come in categories dealing with some of the city’s most critical patients.

Last year, the service only managed to respond to 73 per cent of calls for patients with life-threatening conditions within its eight-minute target time – two per cent shy of the council-approved minimum of 75 per cent. In cases where patients were suffering sudden cardiac arrest, the results were just as startling. Over the past two years, about 63 per cent of calls were attended to within the six-minute target time – again, two per cent below the city-set threshold.

The review cites sprawling geography, a spike in tourism and, mainly, an older, but still-growing population as the key sources of strain on the Ottawa Paramedic Service. Nearly six in 10 patients attended to by paramedics in Ottawa are 55 and older.

Currently, Ottawa has the fewest number of paramedics per call of any municipality in Ontario. With demand expected to continue to jump by six per cent annually for the next three years, city staff are recommending the addition of 38 paramedics to the OPS’s roster and the purchase of five more new ambulances by 2018. The first round of new recruits could be on the job by next August, pending council approval.