The Chennai airport is working on a proposal to outsource paramedical support and a decision in this regard was taken at a meeting held recently.

Airport Director E.P. Hareendranathan told The Hindu that discussions were held last week with all concerned. The reason for the proposal, he acknowledged, was the lack of adequate professionally trained paramedics at the airport to aid those flying in with a medical emergency. The final decision would be taken after another round of discussions.

According to Airports Authority of India (AAI) sources, the airport has half a dozen semi-trained paramedics. Under the existing system, these personnel shift passengers from the aircraft to an AAI ambulance, which then waits for the ambulance from private hospital to which the patient is being taken for treatment.

A senior doctor in the public healthcare sector said the key during emergencies was a well-equipped ambulance, especially for critical care patients who need ventilator support. In such cases, it was also essential to have someone trained in handling these cases. A doctor is a must, he added, for the paramedic's role is limited to shifting the patient who would have wild fluctuations in reading and had to be monitored closely. Paramedics alone would not do, he emphasised. The move comes at a time when Chennai is emerging as a healthcare destination for patients from across the world. While a comprehensive list is not available, facts show the numbers are growing.

For instance, the Chennai branch of Apollo Hospitals receives over 16,000 international patients every year from over 55 countries; at MIOT Hospital 12 per cent of the 1,20,000 patients in 2009-10 were from abroad; and Dr. Cherian's Frontier Lifeline Hospital received 2,166 patients from foreign countries between February 2004 and March 2010.

In addition, there is the huge influx of domestic ‘medical tourists,' who fly down to Chennai for medical help.

While hospitals take care of patients who book with them, it is the condition of those who come in on emergencies that is an issue.

A. Paul Robin, Vice-President, Corporate Relations, MIOT Hospitals, explains: “We have a tie-up with the AAI and our ambulance [with ventilator and doctor support] is allowed up to the tarmac entry point. In addition, there are two multilingual coordinators from the hospital at the airport round-the-clock to provide assistance.” With some variations, the procedure for the other hospitals would be similar.

The issue of lack of professionally trained paramedics at the Chennai airport was also raised in the facilitation committee meeting held a fortnight ago. Citing the example of paramedics being outsourced in both Bangalore and Hyderabad airports, participants at the meeting urged the authorities to introduce a similar system at the Chennai airport.

AAI sources said two years ago a proposal was mooted to outsource the work to a private hospital in the city. However, owing to pressure from a section of employees, it was dropped.

Talking about the number of paramedics required for the Chennai airport, a former AAI officer said 30 was a must for an airport this size.

AAI personnel also expressed concern over the condition of the six ambulances being maintained by the AAI. None of them was fully equipped and some do not even have air-conditioning.