October 2, 2013 12:10:09 am
They were meant to rush victims of road accidents and other medical emergencies to hospital. But the Orissa governments new airconditioned ambulances are increasingly ending up on the list of victims themselves.
Since the launch of the service on March 5,at least 15 ambulances have been vandalised by the very people to whose help they had been sent. Over this same period,these ambulances have transported more than 71,000 people to hospitals and primary health centres.
The green-and-white Tata Winger multi-utility maxi vans operating as ambulances as part of the 108 emergency service are,ironically,one of the success stories of the BJD government. The vehicles are equipped with anecdotes for snakebite,emergency drugs to tackle respiratory distress and kidney failure,and have a trained paramedic on board.
They have been ferrying patients through Bhubaneswars busy traffic,as well as over the bumpy roads of Koraput. There are over 200 ambulances on the road,operating in 15 of 30 districts.
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In four of these districts Balasore,Khurda,Ganjam and Cuttack however,the vehicles have been targeted by relatives of patients,often on slight provocation.
In some cases,the ambulances have been commandeered to private hospitals in violation of government rules. Among the vandalised ambulances has been a new one which was on its way from Faridabad to join the 108 fleet.
Until last month,19 ambulance staff had been assaulted by mobs. Some 60 terrified employees of Ziqitza,the organisation which runs the service,have quit their jobs in the state. Some cases:
* In Balasore districts Hathigad area last month,an ambulance was called for a victim of snakebite. When the vehicle arrived,at least five relatives of the victim tried to get in. When a member of the ambulance staff pleaded that they could not accommodate more than one attendant,he was beaten until he was nearly unconscious. All five relatives of the victim forced themselves in.
* In Ganjam district,someone complaining of a sprained leg rang 108. The Ziqitza Healthcare Ltd call centre executive in Bhubaneswar explained that the ambulance nearest the victims location was attending to another emergency and might take 10-15 minutes to reach him. The executive was abused and threatened over the phone,and when the ambulance reached the callers home after 20 minutes,it was stoned and its staff assaulted.
*On August 27,a doctor at the Binjharpur community health centre referred a pregnant woman to Jajpur district headquarters hospital. The ambulance that was on the way to pick up the woman was,however,stopped by people who demanded that it first attend to a victim of a road accident. One of the ambulance staff tried to reason with them but the mob thrashed him and commandeered the vehicle. The ambulance staff went on strike demanding security.
There is a sense of fear among the ambulance crew. They are being manhandled and assaulted, health secretary P K Mohapatra wrote to the home department last month,demanding police security. …In some cases it appears to be due to insensitiveness on the part of the public and highhandedness on the part of attendants and relatives in other cases.
Officials said people have been unwilling to allow ambulances even the minimum response time of 20 minutes in urban areas and 35 minutes in rural areas. In some cases,the BJDs political opponents have allegedly incited mobs.
People expect us to reach within five minutes of calling,which is not possible considering traffic jams and road conditions in rural areas. Their anger is making it difficult for us to work, Sabyasachi Biswal,state head of Ziqitza,said.
In many cases,the ambulances are being called by people who dont need them. Till last month,over 2 million callers had dialled the service,only around 3 per cent of whom actually needed them. In 7,000 odd cases,the ambulances returned because the emergency turned out to be non-existent.
There is also bullying. On July 16,BJD MLA Jiban Pradip Dashs mother was to be transferred from the district headquarters hospital to Capital Hospital in Bhubaneswar. On the way,the MLA insisted that the patient be taken to Kalinga Hospital in the capital,a private facility to which these ambulances are not supposed to ferry patients.
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