The Sindh health department has decided to launch an ambulance service, which will be accessible through the 1123 helpline in all districts of the province. Around 250 ambulances, equipped with modern technology, will be handed over to the health department next month.
This would be the first time that all district headquarters would have fully equipped ambulance services provided by the government. Apart from services run by charitable organisations, the health department’s ambulance services for most hospitals are lacking.
In 2018 the Sindh health department had inked an agreement with the Aman Foundation under the Sindh Rescue and Medical Services (SRMS), which was supposed to be Karachi’s first government-backed free of charge ambulance service. Later, Thatta and Sujawal districts were added to the project. Under the public-private partnership, the provincial government was supposed to provide the funds, while the Aman Foundation was to manage operations.
Hardly a year after it was launched in December 2018, however, the service was hit with a paucity of funds.
When the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed, the foundation was running 60 ambulances in the metropolis. Patients would be charged Rs5,00 to Rs2,500 per trip, depending on the nature of the emergency and the remaining costs were covered through donations and sponsorships.
After the deal was inked, the foundation stopped taking donations and the patients too were not charged anything. This functioned smoothly till June 2019, when it was relaunched after the funds allocated for the outgoing fiscal year expired. A fund of Rs979 million was announced in the new fiscal budget, of which Rs412 was meant to cover running expenses, while the remaining funds would be used to add 40 new ambulances to the existing fleet of 60. But not a penny was disbursed for four months and by October the service had to be suspended as the foundation said it had no funds for fuel, to stock up on life-saving medicines needed in the ambulances. The staff had not been paid for four months either.
Matters were eventually resolved and 85 ambulances were made operational under the SRMS. The project under public private partnership ended in June this year and is to remain functional till August 31.
Now, as the agreement ends, the provincial health department has launched the Sindh Integrated Emergency Health Services (SIEHS), which will look over matters pertaining to ambulance services in the province. A nine-member board, chaired by Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho, will be set up to oversee affairs. All assets, including human resources, of the SRMS are to be adjusted in SIEHS by September 1.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Parliamentary Secretary on Health Qasim Siraj Soomro said that the new ambulance service would help people receive immediate and quality health service. During the on-going pandemic, five ambulances were providing better services in Hyderabad, he said, adding that the SRMS model was a successful one. “We are introducing the same model across Sindh now.”
The National Disaster Management Authority has already floated the tender for the ambulances.
Replying to a question, Soomro said that the ambulances were being procured through a separate fund. “This is not from any Covid-19 fund,” he clarified.
Meanwhile, regarding prehospital services, a senior official of the health department, privy to the development, said that SRMS provided better medical facilities for the people of Thatta and Sujawal.
According to the official, the new ambulances would provide better chances of survival for critical patients as they were equipped with state-of-the-art emergency facilities.
Concurring, Soomro said that the ambulances will have ultrasound machines and female doctors as well. Some of the ambulances will be deployed at chest units and at selected dispensaries from where pregnant women may be shifted to better health facilities. According to Soomro, 250 ambulances would be sufficient to cater to all hospitals in the province.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2021.
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