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While the delivery of paramedic emergency services across Canada may vary under either a public or private model paramedics and emergency services workers attending their convention sectoral meeting agree that, the increasing privatization of services is a serious threat to both the well-being of patients and the entire health care system.

In all provinces increasing privatization of services is coming by way of private transfer companies that are contracted to drive patients from one hospital to another. In Alberta where the delivery of paramedic emergency services is already partially privatized, transferring patients through stretchers vans is now widespread.

Here the push to privatize more and more is enormous. Edmonton soon plans to contract out transfers, and sadly 46 paramedics will be losing their job, said Randy Littlechild, president of Local 3197.

Transfer services, which started primarily as taxi operators are only licensed to drive patients and are unregulated under any provincial health care legislation. Drivers are not trained to deal with medical emergencies or infectious disease control, but wear uniforms similar to licenced, trained paramedics.

At a time when infectious diseases like SARS are putting new stresses on our hospitals, public health units and emergency services, it is imperative that paramedic emergency services are delivered under a public system. It is also key that paramedic staffing levels are increased, and that emergency services workers receive better training and the equipment needed to deal with new challenges.

For many patients, we are the entrance into the health care system. This is why, CUPE as the countrys largest health care union, which also represents nearly 8,000 paramedics and emergency services workers across the country must drive the agenda for what our profession needs, said John Strohmaier, president of CUPE Local 873 that represents British Columbia emergency services workers province-wide. Paramedics must also get more involved in national organizations such as the Paramedic Association of Canada to ensure issues important to CUPE members in the sector are at the forefront of debate, he added.

In New Brunswick, where paramedic emergency services have been privatized, CUPE is indeed at the forefront of the sector. Recently, paramedics with 20 private operators have been organized and are now represented by CUPE province-wide. These locals are now working toward common collective agreement language.

Regardless of whether emergency services are publicly or privately delivered, those attending the meeting agreed, that the sector must first develop coordinated bargaining strategies, and organize provincial emergency services committees and a national paramedic conference.

We must have a national forum where paramedics from all provinces can get involved. Where we can determine what national strategy is needed in our sector, said Mike Dick, the chair of Ontarios provincial ambulance committee.