At Safdarjung,private vans masquerade as ambulances

No medicare on board,vans charge random rates; owner claims there is no system for ambulance registration; Health Secretary says rules exist

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | New Delhi | Published: May 3, 2012 12:55 am

No medicare on board,vans charge random rates; owner claims there is no system for ambulance registration; Health Secretary says rules exist

Cocking a snook at health department rules for registration of ambulance services in Delhi,a fleet of private ambulance vans has been operating from the Safdarjung Hospital premises,charging sums ranging from Rs 250 to Rs 1,500 per patient per ride.

Parked round-the-clock outside the hospital emergency wing,Tata Sumo and Maruti vans of the Ajay Ambulance Service lack life-support equipment and paramedics. Painted white with the red cross sign,ambulance written in bold and beacons placed atop,these vans have yellow number plates with letters in black meant for taxis and commercial vehicles.

To transport a patient to the AIIMS Trauma Centre across the road,these vans charge Rs 250 to Rs 300,depending on how “serious” is the condition of the patient. To carry a patient to the Fortis Hospital in Vasant Kunj,drivers quote negotiable rates ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500.

When his comments were sought,Ajay Kumar,who runs the Ajay Ambulance Service,said: “I have been operating from the hospital for the last 30-32 years. I have not applied for registration of my vehicles since there is no system for All-India ambulance registration. Delhi rules apply only to Delhi vehicles,my vehicles run across the country.”

Asked about the absence of necessary life-support equipment on board these vans,he said: “We ply only to nearby hospitals like the AIIMS Trauma Centre for very serious patients. In the case of other patients,relatives accompany us. We only transport bodies to other states.”

Vishnu Kumar used the Ajay Ambulance Service to transport his brother Raj Kumar from Safdarjung Hospital to AIIMS. His brother had sustained head and chest injuries after a fall from the terrace during Holi. “We had to hold my brother’s head since no paramedic was on board. They charged us Rs 200. How were we to know that it was not a hospital ambulance?”

Safdarjung Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr B D Athani said that as far he knew,these vehicles were parked on the Ring Road outside the hospital. “I am told they have been operational for a long time and are of help to patients when we are short of hospital ambulance. If they are parked within the compound,I need to look into it.”

Hospital administration officials said there have been attempts in the past to keep out these vehicles but they always return. “It is clear there is a demand for them. We have six functional ambulance of our own. Often,these are not enough. These are reserved for admitted patients who need to be transferred. For emergency services,when patients have to be taken to other hospitals,relatives rely on these vehicles,” an official said.

N S Bhatti,Secretary of the Delhi Ambulance Service Association which represents private ambulance operators,said repeated attempts to regulate ambulance operators had failed. “There is no administrative support,no drives conducted,people hesitate to stop an ambulance for inspection. This is a big problem in Delhi,” Bhatti said.

Delhi Health Secretary Anshu Prakash said: “It is unfortunate if unregistered ambulance vehicles are plying like this. As per rules,a health department committee clears an ambulance operator after inspection. There are requirements for three grades of vehicles — advanced life support,basic life support and patient transport vehicles. But each has to be registered with us.”

After the health department clearance,the transport department provides licences for these vehicles — with white number plates.

Dr Shakti Gupta,Medical Superintendent of the AIIMS Trauma Centre,also chairs the national committee working on a standard code for ambulance design in the country. “Patients transported to us are usually those who sustain grievous injuries,head and spinal being most common. If these vehicles have yellow number plates,they are obviously not registered and can pose a serious threat to patient life,” Gupta said.

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