Ambulance shortage grips city

Ambulances not responding on time, charging double of what they used to

Ambulance drivers in the State capital are stressed for COVID-19 related emergencies now, as there are only about 500 private medical vehicles and the requirement keeps going up.

On the one hand, there are complaints that ambulances are not responding on time for emergencies, and on the other, the ambulance drivers are unable to attend the family members of patients managing to get admission at hospitals due to lack of beds.

While patients wait for ambulances to arrive, these emergency vehicles are caught up in making rounds of hospitals with patients and their family members, who keep turning them away. This is leading to oxygen shortage in ambulances, as an oxygen cylinder meant to serve many patients is getting exhausted in serving only two or three patients in a day.

Another major issue for ambulance drivers is that suppliers are charging five to six times the regular price of oxygen cylinders, so ambulances are having to charge patients much more to avoid losses.

While denizens continue to complain about sky-rocketing prices of all things related to COVID-19 these days, ambulance drivers are stuck between a rock and a hard place, Greater Hyderabad Private Ambulance Owners’ Association president M’ Suresh told The Hindu.

For instance, where an ambulance charged ₹1,000 for shifting a patient from Gandhi Hospital, Secunderabad, to Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences, Panjagutta, and another ₹200 for oxygen supply, the current charges are about ₹3,000, three times higher.

Mr. Suresh said that this was because the drivers are having to procure and wear PPE kits, and purchase oxygen cylinders at a much higher price, sanitise the vehicles, and in much higher volumes.

One compact oxygen cylinder of six litres that used to cost ₹200 to procure is now costing more than ₹1,000. Plus, the drivers are having to go to Katedahn, Balanagar or Cherlapally oxygen plants and wait for hours in this heat to get their cylinders, as the requirement and shortage are both on the rise.

“Of course there is a shortage of ambulances in the city. On the one hand, cases are going up exponentially, and on the other so many private companies have leased ambulances for their use, leading to even more shortage of ambulances for the common public,” he said.

Machiraju Sudhakar, a resident of Kukatpally, said that last week he paid ₹4,000 to shift his maternal uncle to a private hospital in Gachibowli. “It was an emergency. We were in a helpless state, and were forced to agree to the price he quoted. The driver was not ready to bargain,” he said.

Ambulance drivers avoiding home

While people continue to suffer from paucity of hospital beds and ready ambulances, ambulance drivers are staying away from their families as they are increasingly exposed to COVID patients now. “To protect family members, we are sleeping in the vehicles or renting rooms on a shared basis, but avoiding home at all cost,” said one.

‘Deaths higher than official data’

The government’s official numbers for COVID cases and deaths are frightening, but the real scenario on the ground can be much worse. Ambulance drivers say they witness more than 60 deaths at Gandhi Hospital and about 20 more at Telangana Institute of Medical Sciences every day for the last few days, whereas the official number of deaths reported on Tuesday was 52.

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