London Transfer Team Nurse Jon Hogeterp shows Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott the specialized equipment in the region's new ambulance dedicated to critically-ill newborn transport, June 13, 2019. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

Specialized ambulances will transfer sick newborns faster

New specialized ambulances will make it possible for critically-ill newborns across Ontario to be transferred to a children’s hospital for intensive care faster than ever before.

Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliott announced on Thursday a $6.8 million investment for five new specially-equipped ambulances and a team of paramedics in key regions of the province, including in southwestern Ontario.

“Dedicated ambulances will be standardized and pre-equipped with the tools they need in order to care for critically-ill newborns and improve response time,” said Elliott. “Each ambulance will be supported by two paramedics 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With the equipment already inside, the EMS team will be able to respond to the critical needs of patients and have more capacity to take on more calls in a timely manner.”

Using the Middlesex London EMS headquarters in south London as a backdrop, Elliott stated the paramedic service would receive one of the five specialized ambulances.

The province’s four children’s hospitals will also receive $5.8 million to support highly specialized hospital teams and ensure they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More than $1 million of that money will be going to London’s Children’s Hospital. The other three hospitals to receive the funding are Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

“These teams will include specially-trained registered nurses, respiratory therapists, and neonatologists,” said Elliott. “This partnership between emergency medical services and hospitals will help reduce the time needed to transport a critically-ill newborn between hospitals by an estimated 19% and when you’re talking about caring for newborn babies in need of intensive care, of course, you all know that every second counts.”

The London Pediatric Critical Care Team transported approximately 452 infants by land and air last year.

“Our pediatric transport team travels across the province from London and Middlesex, to Windsor and as far north as Kenora. Many communities that we serve as a tertiary care provider for that very large region lack pediatricians to care for high-risk infants and children,” said Dr. Paul Woods, president and CEO of the London Health Sciences Centre. “This unit shortens the time to access care by 90 minutes on average. Access to the expertise of the Children’s Hospital team sooner can mean a better outcome and even a life saved.”

Around 140,000 babies are born in Ontario annually. Of those, more than 2,000 require transport to a children’s hospital.