Toronto's air ambulances will relocate to Hamilton next year, a move the union representing airborne paramedics says will increase the amount of time it takes to rush critical-care patients in the GTA to trauma centres.
The organization that operates the aircraft, however, said the move will improve the service by giving it room to grow.
Ornge, a not-for-profit that runs the province's helicopter and airplane ambulance services, announced plans Tuesday to move the two helicopters at Billy Bishop airport on the Toronto islands to John C. Munro airport in Hamilton next year.
The move to Hamilton was prompted by several factors, including a desire for more space - Hamilton's airport has longer runways that can accommodate airplane ambulances - to weather conditions, said Ornge chief operating officer Tom Lepine.
"Toronto island is often foggy, we don't have that problem as often in Hamilton," he said.
The union representing Ornge paramedics wants the organization to keep the helicopters on the island while simultaneously adding service from Hamilton.
"A lot of the work [the helicopters]do is in the GTA and east," said Leslie Dias, president of CAW local 2002. "Moving the base to Hamilton will increase the transfer times."
Mr. Lepine countered that the helicopters do little work within Toronto itself - leaving the work up to ground ambulances - and that the helicopters aren't always dispatched from their base in any event. For example, an air ambulance that happens to be in Kingston after responding to a call can be dispatched to another nearby call, he said.
"There may be increases in times for some patients and decrease in times for others," he said.
Ornge has had medivac helicopters at Billy Bishop since it took over the service in 2006. The helicopters will continue operating out of the island until some time next year. The exact date for the move to Hamilton has not yet been fixed.