09 June 2010

Air ambulance controversy - curious ATIP redaction may hold clue to full story

A briefing note prepared for the province’s health minister in early September 2009 may contain important clues to when a decision was taken to move an air ambulance aircraft from St. Anthony to Goose Bay.

In a section headed “Medical Flight Specialists”, the briefing note points to the problem of putting specially trained medical crews on aircraft outside St. John’s.  That’s the only place a medical flight specialist team exists since the provincial health department created the program in August 2007.  Before 2007, local medical staff accompanied patients being transported to another hospital inside or outside the province by medical evacuation aircraft.

As part of the relocation of one aircraft to goose Bay, the provincial government will train a new medical flight specialist team.  In the meantime, any staff needed for a medical evacuation from Goose Bay would have to originate in St. John’s or travel to St. John’s first and then return to goose Bay.  That’s exactly the problem identified in the September 4, 2009 briefing note regardless of where outside St. John’s the health department based an aircraft.

Air amb briefing note

Note that the final four bullets in that section are deleted.  Three are deleted under a discretionary section of the province’s access to information law  about to advice to a cabinet minister or government body. There’s no indication what that information might be.

But a fourth bullet is deleted because it relates to “plans that relate to the management of personnel of or the administration of a public body and that have not yet been implemented or made public…”.  The province’s access to information allows the head of a department the discretion whether or note to censor that information.  In this case, the department head decided to censor the information.

These deletions are important since they relate to a dispute over when the provincial government decided to move the air ambulance. Both provincial Tories and the Grit opposition have tied the move  - directly or indirectly  - to last fall’s by-election in the district formerly represented by provincial Tory cabinet minister Trevor Taylor.

Taylor resigned unexpectedly last fall.  The provincial Liberals won the by-election held in October. Health care was a major issue in the by-election. In a letter to a local newspaper in the district in May, Taylor tied the by-election to the ambulance relocation.

While the Premier and health minister have denied the connection they have also hinted strongly that further protests by people in Taylor’s former district might lead to other cuts.

Paul Oram, the province’s health minister in September 2009, resigned suddenly in early October, citing ill health.