Trivandrum: It wasn't so long ago that the 108 ambulance service was hailed as one of the best things to happen in health service. Now it is under fire for being grossly inefficient, at times being more a nuisance than a service. It all started once it's control fell in to government hands.
"Under a private company, decision making process is easier. That's not the case when it becomes a government controlled service. Even to change worn out tyres, there is a lengthy procedure to be followed, which can be easily delayed, even halted," said an official at Kerala Medical Services Corporation Ltd (KMSCL), which is responsible for the upkeep of the service.
Very recently, a 108 ambulance was in news for meeting with an accident while rushing an
injured person to hospital. Bad tyres were blamed for the mishap, but that's no excuse to overspeed.
"There is no reason to overspeed while transporting accident victim to the hospital," the official said. "The ambulances are equipped to give due medical care to the injured person. There is no need to rush through busy traffic threatening safety of others, because everything that is needed to save the person is there in the ambulance itself."
Lately it has been pointed out that most appliances are poorly maintained. With the service moving to government hands there is a lack of accountability among staff. They can choose not to respond to a call saying the oxygen cylinder isn't working. And if it works, it can be made not to work, no questions asked.
"It was the staff who went on strike demanding government to take over
the service. Now that they got their wish, they are a law unto
themselves. Who is there to punish them? The ambulance service, which used to attend dozens of calls on a single day now attends one or two."
While the 108 service have been lagging behind, private ambulance are having a heyday. Most of these ambulances do not even meet the required conditions to be put into service as ambulance.
"It is not one person's fault. It is simply the way things work. Just think of it - In Tamil Nadu the number of 108 ambulances number well over a thousand. The same is the case with Andhra Pradesh. In Karnataka there are about 800 of them. In Kerala, there are 43 - 25 in Trivandrum and 18 in Alappuzha and that's including those temporarily out of service."
While once there were serious talks to expand the services statewide, at present, KMSCL is struggling to keep the 43 ambulances in running condition. The 108 ambulance service, which was once a synonym of efficiency, is now facing a very real threat going extinct.