CHENNAI: In a sign of how much the Indian health sector is lagging behind, it has been found that in the US, almost every organ transplant centre has a helipad. Transferring a sick patient to a super-speciality hospital or getting a harvested organ from one part of Seattle to another is often faster via helicopter. Obviously, the same logic applies when you’re trying to do the same in a city like Chennai. But, helicopters and air ambulances are still a luxury here, despite Chennai being hailed as the ‘Mecca of Healthcare’ in the country.
Air ambulances operated by Deccan Aviation, fly almost every single day out of Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, but the demand in the South is “very low,” according to S Kumar, Manager of Air Ambulances at the Aviation Company. He said, “Having helipads in city hospitals is something that should have happened a long time ago, but then getting the State and the DGCA to agree on something is very difficult. A lot more has to be done if we are to get critically Ill patients from a sall town to a super-speciality centre within the ‘golden hour’”.
Even VIPs, like the late Vilasrao Deshmukh, had to be brought by ambulance to Global Health City, after flying from Mumbai to Chennai in an air ambulance, in 2012. He pointed out that patients are worried about spending lakhs on their Pilatus PC12 crafts. When hospitals ask them for quotes, they often fail to get back to them because it’s too high. Indian insurance providers do not cover these costs.
At the moment, the major users of air ambulances are international patients who arrive in critical states from all over the Gulf and Middle East. “Many of our international patients come in on air ambulances. Sometimes when they are told that they are too critical, they prefer to be repatriated by ambulance,” explained T I Joshua, DGM of International Patient Business at Global Health City, “Even then, they prefer to use ambulances from their home countries, because they’re more advanced and their insurance/health ministry covers the expenditure,” he added. Even immigration authorities have become more receptive to this, “Recently we had a critical patient brought in from Pakistan and the immigration officers let us take him to the hospital from the tarmac,” he said.
Though organ transfers are handled by road or commercial craft, surgeons have been pushing aviation companies to offer better deals so that usage increase, “Recently, one of our patients from Delhi had used an air ambulance from Dubai because of it’s superior care and speed. We are planning to speak to Captain Gopinath and others to see if we can come up with a mechanism to make air ambulances more accessible to people,” said Dr K G Suresh Rao, Head of Critical Care at Fortis Malar Hospitals.