With most among the public clueless about basic first-aid to be administered in case of an accident or medical condition, lack of a single toll-free ambulance number to call in case of a medical emergency and no dedicated traffic lane to ferry hospital cases in times of urgent need – chances of any Delhiite receiving timely and appropriate treatment still seems like a distant dream.

While the good news here is that this scenario is fast changing, according to doctors and those in the business; the bad news is that the change isn’t happening fast enough.

With India continuing to top the list of countries where the general public pays the maximum ‘out-of pocket’ for health care services, reaching a right medical centre, within the ‘golden period’ is still a challenge even in the Capital.

Though upbeat about the “rapidly improving ambulance services that the city is acquiring”, head of the AIIMS trauma centre Dr. M.C. Misra said: “A robust ambulance service is a must to ensure that a patient or accident victim needing urgent medical attention is safely transported to the nearest and most appropriate hospital. In Delhi we still cannot guarantee that this will happen in all the cases that require this service. Though progress is being made and the past decade has seen rapid advancement in the government understanding of the need for good ambulance service, the pace at which the population and its requirements have grown has been phenomenal and we haven’t been able to provide the required number of ambulance for this expanding number of service users.”

Dr. Misra added that it is the police that is often burdened with the responsibility of bringing in an accident/trauma victim. There is also a need to generate awareness about basic first-aid procedure and technique among the general public who can often contribute to save a life.

“While in case of a road accident or trauma the basic motto has to be ‘scoop and run’ (gather the patient and rush him to the nearest hospital) there are simple techniques that every person should know to save a life. The fact that we don’t have enough ambulance service in the city is no secret and while this problem is being rectified the best way out then is to ensure that the general public learns to help the victim till the time medical care is made available,” said Dr. Misra.

“People have to be taught about the importance of the ‘golden hour’ and the ‘platinum hour’ for heart attack patients and what to do if you have a person having a stroke, heart attack, a head injury or other trauma,” he noted.

The Delhi Government too on its part assures that it is working towards bringing in more ambulances for the Capital. However, the recent Comptroller and Auditor General of India report on the ambulance service in the Capital pointed out to the fact that two of the city’s hospitals, which have a very heavy patient load – GTB Hospital and Lok Nayak Hospital – have actually not been able to use their ambulances appropriately for patient care.

The report stated that the hospitals have been using ambulances mainly for bringing medicines from the market, dropping doctors at their residence/hospital, carrying dead bodies to the mortuary and collecting cash from bank.

Moreover, the ambulances were not equipped with basic life support equipment – oxygen cylinder, suction pumps, BP instruments or first aid boxes.

A senior Delhi Government official speaking about this misuse said: “While government is trying its best to bring in more ambulances, we cannot micro-manage. We understand the need for a good network of vehicles to transport patients and are working towards it.’’ He added that Delhi is yet to get its promised air and bike ambulance. “These will take time.”

However, what is lacking in the government sector is now being gladly offered to patients in the private but at a cost. Dr. Priyadarshani Pal Singh of Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals said: “We offer air ambulance service, say from Chennai to Delhi at Rs.8 lakh where a patient can come here within a couple of hours. Also our five land ambulances offer free service within a 10 km radius.”

More In: Delhi