Ambulance Crisis at DMCH: Patients take the brunt
Sultana Begum was losing her patience.
With her husband on a trolley, she was waiting for an ambulance at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital's gate since around 11:30am yesterday. Her husband Md Awal was admitted to the hospital five days ago with a problem in his spinal cord that has made him almost paralysed.
Awal needed to have a pathological test done at a private hospital in Dhanmondi. But unlike on any other day, there was no ambulance at the DMCH gate yesterday.
"It's been two hours already, but I don't find any ambulance," said the hapless woman, aged about 30, from Khulna.
Frustrated, Sultana hired a CNG-run auto-rickshaw to take her husband with the saline bag attached to his hand.
Patients like Awal faced serious difficulties at the DMCH yesterday as privately-managed ambulances were hardly found at the largest public hospital in the country.
Following Saturday's incident in which four people were killed as an ambulance ran them over inside the hospital premises, most ambulance owners suspended operation there fearing "police harassment".
Usually, about 50 private ambulances operate at the DMCH every day. But yesterday, just about 15-20 were in operation, said Din Islam Dina, secretary of private ambulance service association at the DMCH.
Ultimately, patients and their relatives bore the brunt.
Take the family of Siraj Ali. The 85-year-old died at the DMCH in the afternoon. His family was desperately looking for an ambulance to take the body in their village home in Comilla.
After waiting for over two hours in vain, the frustrated family got the phone number of an ambulance service from a hospital employee, said his son Mofizul Islam.
At first, the driver refused to carry the body, but finally agreed when Mofizul offered Tk 8,000, which is nearly double the normal fare.
In the wake of Saturday's accident, all the ambulances left the usual ambulance stand in front of the DMCH. Parking near the gate is illegal, and so all the ambulances parked behind the DMCH and in adjacent areas.
Brokers and some hospital staff members, who often work hand in hand, took advantage of the situation. They arranged ambulances for the patients, allegedly making some quick bucks out the the deals.
"We used to park our vehicles on the street, but we are afraid to do so after the accident. Also, police barred us from parking our vehicles near the hospital. But we are giving the service on a limited scale, parking our vehicles in adjacent areas," said Din Islam.
Later at night, however, police allowed a handful of ambulance to park in front of the hospital.
Abu Bakar Siddique, officer-in-charge of Shahbagh Police Station, said they would let five to six ambulances park before the hospital gate at a time.
Contacted, Saidur Rahman, director (Hospital) of the Directorate General of Health Services, dismissed reports that patients were suffering because of ambulance shortages.
"Private ambulances occupy the streets illegally and we cannot support it. There are ambulances of fire brigade and other state-run organisations as well, and people can take the service from them,” he said.
Public hospitals, including the DMCH, rarely offer ambulance service, though the service exists on paper. The DMCH authorities claim that they have six ambulances, but sources say the hospital has only four -- two of those not operational.
So people are forced to take private services at high costs, as there are no regulations and monitoring authorities.
About this, the DGHS director said the health ministry was working to formulate a policy to regulate public and private ambulance service.
DMCH Director Brig Gen Mizanur Rahman said the authorities had already served a show cause notice on the DMCH employees who are allegedly involved with the syndicate that controls the ambulance service there.
He suggested setting up of an ambulance stand for parking private ambulances near the hospital.
There should be rules that when approached for services, ambulance drivers cannot decline, he told reporters, adding: "The ambulance fare should also be fixed.”
Raghib Manzoor, CEO of CritiCare.Com and founder secretary general of Bangladesh Society of Emergency Medicine, said the government should formulate a policy for ambulance service.
Mohammad Momin Ali, president of Dhaka City Ambulance Owner Cooperative Limited, said there must be a crackdown on the ambulance syndicates in state-run hospitals to ensure better services for patients.
"A list of private ambulance services along with the phone numbers can be pasted at all state-run and private hospitals. Patients will then be able to choose which service they will take,” he said.
TWO BROKERS JAILED
Two men were sentenced to six months in prison by a mobile court for trying to stop an ambulance at the DMCH yesterday evening.
They are Tanvir and Abir.
Sarwoer Alam, executive magistrate of Rab, said, "We heard that a patient died at the DMCH. The patient's relatives hired an ambulance from outside the DMCH to carry the body to Sirajganj. But two brokers of private ambulance services barred the ambulance from entering the DMCH.”
Still, the ambulance driver managed to enter the hospital premises to carry the body.
“The two brokers then tried to stop the ambulance. A Rab team saw the incident and informed me about it. I then sentenced the two,” he told The Daily Star.