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Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley speaks at an economic forum in Calgary on April 18.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley says her party will swiftly review ambulance services if it wins government after four mayors in the province repeated calls on Tuesday to reverse the centralization of 911 EMS dispatch, which has since been plagued with problems.

Ms. Notley, during a campaign stop in Red Deer, told media the New Democratic Party would immediately include the decision to transition emergency medical services’ dispatch to the provincial health authority in its review of EMS, which will include municipal consultations. The change was made at the direction of the United Conservative Party government in early 2021.

“We will have to look at how we can unscramble that egg in a way that achieves the greatest level of service for Albertans and the greatest ability to respond to local needs and the asks of local leadership,” she said.

The second day of Alberta’s 31st general election campaign saw the NDP make health-related announcements in Calgary, Lethbridge and Red Deer, while UCP Leader Danielle Smith was scheduled to meet with voters and volunteers in Calgary. The race is close between Alberta’s two main political parties, which are desperate to gain votes, especially in Calgary, a key battleground.

Ms. Smith did not address media on Tuesday, nor did her party respond to a request for comment on renewed calls from mayors in Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to return EMS dispatch to local jurisdictions.

In a joint statement, the city leaders said the service has degraded since the provincial health authority shifted city-run systems to one of three dispatch centres in early 2021.

Persistent problems include errors or delays in verifying the address of an emergency, delays in dispatching ambulances, critical safety alerts not being issued for EMS crew safety, and deviations in protocols to triage patients, the mayors’ statement said.

When the NDP took power in 2015, ending a 43-year-long conservative grip on the province, it paused plans to consolidate ambulance dispatch that were introduced by the outgoing Progressive Conservatives. There was intense opposition to the provincial takeover of services at the time, including from then-Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi.

The UCP hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning 911 dispatch to municipalities, but no decision was made before the election call. Alberta Health Services has said the provincewide system is more efficient, improves patient care and saves $6-million yearly by eliminating duplication.

Health care is a key ballot-box issue as Alberta, and other jurisdictions across Canada, recover after the COVID-19 pandemic revealed shortfalls in the health system. Significant reductions to front-line staffing and longer wait times for ambulances, emergency rooms and surgeries continue to affect patient services.

The NDP has pledged $750-million to hire more health professionals and to create health teams of doctors and other specialists to make sure more Albertans have access to timely care. The UCP has promised $2-billion to hire more doctors, nurses and paramedics.

On Tuesday, Ms. Notley reiterated plans for family-health teams and said the NDP will expand the hours of medical clinics as part of an overall plan to improve health services.

She also told media a review will be conducted on any contracts with private companies under the UCP for the delivery of health services, including DynaLIFE Medical Labs for privatized lab tests and private facilities contracted to provide publicly funded surgeries, such as hip and knee replacements.

She said she is “very worried” about how the recent surgical contracts are affecting the availability of anesthesiologists and patient prioritization. Ms. Notley said the NDP would also clamp down on clinics in Alberta that are charging patients extra to access care.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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