Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Sunday, May 22, 2005
Industry & Economy - Health
A `pocket-friendly' ambulance service
P.T. Jyothi Datta
NEW LIFELINE: Mr Russell C. Smith, Assistant Chief Ambulance Officer, London Ambulance Service, with the new ambulance in Mumbai on Saturday. Shashi Ashiwal
Mumbai , May 21
HOW often have you seen ambulances negotiate their way through streets clogged with traffic? And that, when minutes can make the difference between life and death?
Ever had an emergency and dialled to call an ambulance, only to hear the number ring incessantly, or worse, be told by an automated voice that the line is busy?
In the absence of an emergency access number like England's 999 or the United States' 911 a group of young entrepreneurs with support from the London Ambulance Service (LAS) have launched Ambulance Access for All (AAA) in Mumbai.
The service has a single access number 1298 and plans to establish a national footprint in the long-term. Touted as the country's first variable-fee emergency service, the patient pays depending on their economic background.
The project implementation in terms of designing the call-centre support and planning where the ambulances would be stationed etc has been guided by India's telecom-man, Dr Sam Pitroda, said Mr Shaffi Mather, AAA's Director.
A Mumbai-based corporate is supporting the service, besides a group of other corporates including State Bank of India, Hindustan Petroleum and Playwin Foundation of Essel World, he said. Even the single access number was made possible by MTNL, he said.
Explaining the variable-fee concept, Mr Mather said, there was a fee of Rs 500. But, it would be subsidised or waived depending on the patient's ability to pay. The ambulance would take the patient, depending on the emergency, to the nearest Government or private hospital. The hi-tech ambulances are equipped with medical devices and professionals, global positioning system and real-time tracking.
Having trained the crew of the new service and worked with them during the pilot-run over the last 10-months, Mr Russell C. Smith, LAS' Assistant Chief Ambulance Officer, told Business Line that the aim should be to reach the patient at the earliest and administer aid in the right manner. He also warned of crank calls and underlined the need to prioritise response.
According to Dr Khusrav Bajan, Consultant (emergency, critical care and internal medicine) with Mumbai's Hinduja Hospital, there are 1,400 registered ambulances in Mumbai and only seventy per cent of them have oxygen, a basic requirement. Existing ambulance services have a delayed response time and these conditions could be true of any large metro in the country, he said.
AAA's first phase of the Rs 6.5-crore project, with 10 ambulances covering Mumbai, was launched by the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh, on Saturday. Mr Mather said the service got about 25 calls per day during the trial run. The second phase, with 40 more ambulances, will become operational if the service continues to get a good response. If an ambulance was not available, the call centre would provide numbers of other ambulance services, he said.
The organisation will review the operations in six months and plan for other cities, he said. There is an offer from petroleum companies to help cover highways, by stationing ambulances at petrol pumps, an official with the non-profit emergency service said.
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