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Controversial air ambulance service in Manitoba given new guidelines

WINNIPEG - A controversial helicopter ambulance service in Manitoba is facing new rules after a government-ordered review.

The STARS service will soon have a special transport team for cases involving children under 12, and will have its personnel accredited by the Canadian Medical Association, as is the case in Ontario and British Columbia.

As well, STARS will be required to have a doctor involved in all patient transports for two months in order to boost public confidence.

The changes come from a review ordered after a few critical incidents last year on STARS missions, in which three patients were thought to have been deprived of oxygen.

Dr. Brian Postl (POH'-stuhl), who conducted the review, says the changers will address patient safety concerns.

STARS was grounded in Manitoba last December after three critical incidents, but resumed rescue missions in March.

The service resumed inter-hospital transfers for adults this summer, and will soon resume for kids as well.

While STARS has faced questions about its care in Manitoba, it has been widely lauded — and more widely used — in Saskatchewan and Alberta. It flew 177 missions last year in Manitoba, compared with 821 in Saskatchewan and almost 1,700 in Alberta.

The STARS service has also been questioned by Manitoba's auditor general, because the government gave the company a long-term $10 million a year contract in 2011 without allowing other companies to bid.

The auditor general said the cost-per-mission is triple or more the cost of other provinces' air-ambulance programs, largely because the service is used less frequently than in other provinces. STARS has said it has fixed costs for keeping personnel at the ready.

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