NEW DELHI: The Union Health Ministry on Sunday laid down the standard operating procedure for medical staff attending to or transporting suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, saying the SOP is meant to guide and train ambulance drivers and technicians.
"Ideally, there should be ambulances identified specifically for transporting COVID suspect patients or those who have developed complications, to the health facilities," according to the SOP.
"Currently, there are two types of ambulances ALS (with ventilators) and BLS (without ventilators). States may empanel other ambulances having basic equipment like that of BLS and use it for COVID patients," the Health Ministry said.
It warned against use of the '102 ambulances' for coronavirus patients and said they should only be used to transport pregnant women and sick infants.
The emergency medical technician (EMT), driver of ambulance must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling, managing and transporting identified and suspected cases of COVID-19.
The patient and the attendant should be provided with triple-layer mask and gloves, the SOP said.
The ministry also provided a sample questionnaire to identify COVID-19 cases in its SOP.
The SOP instructed local authorities to prepare a list of all private ambulance service providers in their respective areas.
These ambulances should be linked with a centralised call centre to ensure an adequate number of ambulances and reduce response time to an average of 20 minutes, it said.
"Orientation on infection prevention protocols and protocols for transporting COVID patients should also be ensured for staff of these ambulances. To ensure a response time of 20 minutes, ambulances should be strategically located at hospitals, police stations," it said.
It said only identified and designated ambulances should be used for transportation and all health functionaries should be made aware to use such ambulance services for COVID patients through toll-free numbers.
"Otherwise it might increase the chances of transmission of infection. Every district should facilitate empanelling of ambulances other than those in the public health system even if the present situation may not require using them."
"To minimize the risk of transmission, it is strongly recommended that if other than empanelled ambulances are bringing COVID or suspect patients, such vehicles need to be quarantined for thorough cleaning and disinfection and should only be released after certification by district administration/ district health official," it said.
The SOP also enumerates detailed guidelines for each level of contact with such patients at call centres, on board ambulances, during handing over of patient to institutional care, disinfecting ambulances and capacity building in terms of PPE and a checklist for weekly monitoring by district surgeon/anesthetist.