The Health Board (Terviseamet) has authorized cutting ambulance crew sizes from three down to two people, due to the high burden on staff during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Ragnar Vaiknements, health development advisor at the Ministry of Social Affairs, under whose remit the Health Board falls, said that the aim is to combat fatigue among ambulance crews, who have been under pressure with coronavirus testing and other issues related to the emergency situation.
The move will also anticipate any future increases in workloads, as well as help to shield crew members from potential coronavirus infection.
"A two-member brigade is just as capable and high in quality as a three-member brigade," said Vaiknemets.
At the same time, the policy is not going to be enforced as mandatory, he said.
"This is an opportunity, not an obligation; one which is decided by each ambulance," Vaiknemets said.
Vaiknemets added that an increase in the number of ambulance callouts happens during flu season (winter to early spring) in any case, as viral infections and the number of people exhibiting symptoms rises.
Mild coronavirus symptoms still do not require ambulance call-out
Kalev Pahla, chief emergency department specialist at the Health Board, stressed that this development does not mean that people with mild viral symptoms should call an ambulance or call an emergency center.
For these cases, there is a dedicated 24-hour family doctor helpline that can be reached at 1220, as well as a coronavirus toll-free hotline on 1247, 24/7.
"Severe symptoms that require an ambulance are those that the patient can't cope with," Pahla said.
These would include a high fever over 38.5 degrees and severe breathing difficulties or shortness of breath, he added.
The Health Board's English information on coronavirus is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte