Death and despair as finding ambulances remains an ordeal

Vehicles charge exorbitant amount for transport to hospitals and crematoriums

May 05, 2021 01:05 am | Updated May 12, 2021 12:46 pm IST

Ambulances  lined up outside a crematorium in Seemapuri  on Tuesday.

Ambulances lined up outside a crematorium in Seemapuri on Tuesday.

After a 30-year-old resident of Ashok Vihar lost his parents — in a span of a few hours — he had to go through an ordeal arranging for ambulances, said his cousin Kriti Sharma.

Ms. Sharma, from north Delhi, said her 62-year-old aunt’s oxygen started dropping in the last week of April and she needed an ambulance to be taken to a hospital. “There were no beds available in any hospital and we had to physically check a few hospitals,” she said. A group of eight cousins started gathering information on ambulances on Twitter, Instagram and Google and were frantically dialing numbers.

‘Govt. helpline busy’

“We first tried government helpline ‘108’ but it was busy all along. Then we tried private ambulances operators, but they said they need confirmation on the exact drop location. At this point when no hospitals are admitting, how could we tell?” she said.

Eventually, her cousin —the aunt’s son — decided to take her to a private nursing home, using his own vehicle. The facility agreed to admit her. However, the facility allegedly told them that they should take her home because she needs an ICU, which they didn’t have after which the family arranged a BiPAP machine. But “my aunt died in a couple of hours. Thankfully, the private nursing home where she had been earlier taken arranged for the ambulance to take her body to cremation ground”.

The next morning, when Ms. Sharma’s cousin went into his father’s room to wake him up, he found that he had died. He died in his sleep, the family believes. But arranging an ambulance to take his body to cremation ground was “unimaginably tough”.

Ambulance asks for ₹1L

“While making calls, one of the private ambulance companies asked for ₹1 lakh to transport the body from Ashok Vihar to Punjabi Bagh. We were shocked and obviously refused. Most denied us. Finally, one of my father’s contacts helped us,” she said.

But two women, Ms. Kriti said, got lucky last Thursday when the 108-helpline number responded to their call. The women were transported to hospitals and got admission without any hiccups.

Another 26-year-old resident of south Delhi and member of a citizen support group, who has been trying to arrange resources for people in Delhi, said one of her friend’s father from Vasant Kunj was to be transported to Punjab because of the unavailability of beds in city hospitals.

Admission out of city

“Can’t remember the number of calls made for this case, but nothing worked. We are finding it extremely tough to arrange ambulance within city...out of State ambulance became impossible,” she said, adding that the friend’s father got lucky because one ambulance from the Punjab hospital had come to Delhi after a patient’s discharge. “But he had to wait 12 hours for the ambulance to take him. Anything could have happened in that period,” she said.

Sharing another experience, she said another friend’s father’s oxygen levels dropped to 70 and he had to be rushed to a Lok Nayak Hospital, but it took them three hours to find an ambulance. “All the numbers we tried either denied availability or asked more than ₹25,000. Finally, the company — my friend works at — arranged an ambulance at ₹15,000. We agreed to it as he needed to be hospitalised immediately,” she said.

After losing his brother, Anil Kumar from Central Delhi was informed by the hospital in Nangloi on Saturday night that they had to move the body from the facility. “We were clueless on what to do...where would we keep the body all night? The hospital gave us a number of an ambulance driver, who asked for ₹20,000 to keep the body all night. According to guidelines, the hospital has to arrange the disposal of bodies, but they put everything on us,” he said.

Eventually, the hospital agreed to keep the body for the night and charged ₹7,000 to transport the body from the hospital to cremation ground. “The ambulance driver took ₹1,000 extra to take the body out of the car and keep it on the pyre,” he added.

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