Members of ‘108’ Ambulance Workers’ Union here allege that ambulances in the district are frequently used for shifting patients from one government hospital to another rather than attending to emergency requirements.

Many a time, emergency cases pertaining to road accidents, burns, suicides and deliveries, are missed out since the paramedics are forced to handle cases deemed to be not so critical in nature, they claim. The union members also allege that ambulances attending to emergency cases are coerced to take back-to-back cases due to a majority of vehicles being engaged in routine transfer of patients between hospitals. “It results in the paramedical staff earning the wrath of people who even go to the extent of assaulting us,” a union member said.

There are a total of 19 ambulances stationed in urban and rural areas of Madurai district. They are manned by 61 ambulance pilots and 63 emergency medical technicians. At present, the ‘108’ ambulance services are extended even to private hospitals for transporting patients to other districts for further treatment, say ambulance drivers.

“Initially, the management told us that we can travel only up to a distance of 20 km for a case. But now we are being forced to travel for more than 200 km for a case, without even being paid for the extra mile we go,” said M. Senthil Kumar, State general secretary of the union.

Almost all ambulances attached to government hospitals in the State are inducted into 108 ambulance service and used for transportation of patients, thus resulting in an increase in work burden for the drivers, he adds. Though the union members assert that a majority of calls received are related to inter-facility transfer (IFT) cases from private and government hospitals in the peripheries. However, officials deny the allegation saying that they receive only about 20 per cent of the IFT calls.

When contacted, R. Gopi, District Project Manager, denied that 108 ambulances were used to predominantly handle the IFT cases, saying, “The IFT cases are also emergency cases. We cannot ignore them as non-emergency cases.” A proposal had been sent to the government seeking funds to expand the ambulance fleet, he added.

A representation had also been sent to GVK-EMRI that ran the 108 ambulance services, union members said.

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