VIJAYAWADA: Ambulance is the lifeline of the sick and the injured in medical emergencies. Every minute counts in saving life. But unfortunately in Vijayawada and other parts of Krishna district, getting an ambulance is either too expensive or too time-consuming. If you call 108 emergency vehicle, there is no guarantee when the ambulance arrives. You should be prepared to pay through your nose if you want to engage a private ambulance service.
Apart from 108 ambulance facility, which is free, there are others like government and private hospitals and NGOs that provide the service. The Government General Hospital, Vijayawada has three categories of ambulances - one of them is Mahaprasthanam, which transports bodies, the second one, Talli Bidda Express, is solely for ferrying mother and child to their home after delivery and the third one, comprising four vehicles, is engaged in carrying sick and injured people to the hospital.
However, these four ambulances available with the GGH are more than 10-15 years' old and without equipped with any life support system. Shortage of drivers is another problem that cripples the crucial public health service.
Speaking to Express, Narasimha Naik, Reginal Medical Officer, GGH, says, "We are facing shortage of drivers. The hospital has only eight drivers as against its requirement of 16 drivers to work in three shifts. Even the vehicles are very old and break down frequently while ferrying patients. Often with the permission from DMHO, we engage the services of 2-3 108 vehicles to shift patients to hospital. The only ambulance equipped with advanced life support system we have is deployed in the Chief Minister's convoy."
He said that the hospital is in need of two ambulances with advanced lift support equipment to cater to the needs of patients.
Private hospitals in Vijayawada city, which are running over 22 services, do not offer ambulance to shift patients from their hospital to other hospitals.
V Ramakrishna, a tutor in a private institute, says, "Recently, I admitted my mother to a private hospital. We were not happy with the treatment there and wanted to shift her to the government hospital. But the private hospital refused to allow us to use their ambulance for the purpose. They bluntly told us that they use their ambulances only to bring patients not to shift them to other hospitals. Left with no option, I hired a private ambulance."
When Express contacted a private hospital, an official on condition of anonymity said, "We usually get many emergency calls, if we use our ambulances for shifting patients to their homes or to other hospitals, the emergency cases will be at risk."
The free ambulance services -- 108 and 104 -- run by the State Government, renamed as Chandranna Sanchara Chikitsa, are hardly any better. In Krishna district, there are 36 108 ambulances and 20 104 services. However, of them only 30 108 vehicle and 19 104 vehicles are operational.
Of the 30, six 108 ambulances are deployed at three Government General Hospitals in Krishna district including Machilipatnam and Vijayawada. With the staff crunch and all other issues, hardly 20 ambulances are being used in the entire district, says Sarma, additional DMHO.
He further said, "The ambulances in the district are comparatively less than those in other districts and other issues like protests plaguing the service, only a few are available. This is why there is some delay in an ambulance reaching patients."
Speaking to Express, V Ramanamma, a 60-year-old women from Krishnalanka, says, "My husband suffered paralysis this morning and when we called 108, they came after 40 minutes. I was very worried about his condition as the ambulance had no doctor to provide first aide. After reaching the government hospital, he was treated by doctors."
Many patients complain that the medicine box in the ambulance is almost empty and they don't have even as basic a thing as a painkiller to provide immediate relief to those injured in road accidents.
Even 104 services, which mainly cater to the needs of rural people, are in no better shape due to lack of adequate staff and equipment. Most of the vehicles in this category do not have fitness certificates and insurance.
There are no official records with the district health authorities regarding the number of private ambulance services available in the district and their condition. That means there is no regulatory body.
A private ambulance service provider charges Rs 700 for transporting patients and Rs 300 extra for oxygen support. And for ventilator support, the total cost goes up to Rs 3000. These charges apply to only for those patients who are taken to the GGH, Vijayawada from within the city. If the patients are from rural regions, the charges will go up to Rs 5000- Rs 8,000.
When Express contacted DMHO, T Padmajarani she said, "I am unaware of the existence of private ambulance services. I don't think they come under my jurisdiction. May be there is some committee to look after the private ambulances, their certification etc. I have to check."
DOORS CLOSED TO LIFELINE
Total 108 ambulances in district 36
Total 108 ambulances that are in working condition 20-25
Total 104 ambulances in the district 20
Total 104 in operation 19
Total ambulances excluding Talli Bidda Express and Mahaprasthanam in GGH Vijayawada - 4
Total private hospital ambulances in Vijayawada city 22
Total private ambulances 50-70
Amount charged by private ambulance service provider for basic transport Rs 700
Ambulance with oxygen Rs 1000
Ambulance with ventilator support Rs 3000