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Woeful wait

by Roy R. Morris

FLASHBACK: Days of plenty – ambulances lined up at St. George accident scene.

FLASHBACK: Days of plenty – ambulances lined up at St. George accident scene.

The Ministry of Health is moving to give emergency aid to one of its most chronically ill patients, all part of an effort to ensure the rest of the population does not get infected.

Barbados TODAY investigations revealed that today the Emergency Ambulance Service, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, was able to put just three ambulances on the streets to service the whole country – a vast improvement on the situation not so long ago when there was just one working ambulance.

A well placed health services source revealed this afternoon that five state-of-the-art Toyota brand emergency vehicles were being imported for the EAS, but could not say exactly when they would arrive.

In the meanwhile though, the source pointed out, authorities had put arrangements in place so that in the event the number and/or type of calls fell beyond the capacity of the department, personnel could call on the resources of the Barbados Defence Force’s Medical Unit, which operates its own ambulances.

Additionally, said the source, the department has been provided with paid access to a number of private ambulances, which would also be deployed as the need arose.

“But the truth of the matter is that as we speak right now the department has three ambulances on the road and that is not what we would like, or what is best,” the source said.

“We are operating with an aged fleet and when units break down, as you would expect, we sometimes have to wait quite a while for parts. In fact, even when we rush and have parts flown in by Fed-Ex, it can still take as long as two weeks for the parts to arrive. So we do definitely have challenges, but all is not lost.”

Earlier this week, without giving specifics, new Minister of Health John Boyce said new ambulances would be provided for the service and conditions under which personnel work would be upgraded. The 2013-14 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, now being debated in the House of Assembly, provides just short of $5 million for the Emergency Ambulance Service, up by almost $1 million from the current fiscal year.

However, in dramatising the pressure emergency medical technicians face when the number of working vehicles drops, a source within the service noted in recent times on a day shift there could be as many as five crews on duty and only one or two functioning ambulances.

“You can get calls at the same time for someone with stomach pains, another with chest pains and a third person on the verge of a diabetic coma and you have to make a choice.

“You may have to respond to the person with the chest pain because you believe it is a cardiac problem and ask the person with the stomach pains to try to get to the hospital on their own. At least as long as the diabetic person can swallow you can give them something to drink…

“Or if you have a call from St. Philip and then one comes in from Bridgetown, you can collect the one that is near first and then head to St. Philip,” she noted.

Barbados TODAY also learnt that while the department had a relatively new Land Rover “ambulance”, there were times when it could not be deployed because “not all crews are comfortable working it”.

“In any event, it was not designed for routine calls,” the source said. “It is supposed to be mainly a rapid response mass casualty unit that will move special equipment.”

Meanwhile, ambulance workers have also called on authority to implement a staff recommendation that at least one vehicle be added to the fleet each year instead of the established practice of buying three, four or five at the same time, often resulting in the need for multiple replacements in the future.

“It really is not the best situation when all your vehicles age at the same time, and that is our big problem today,” the official said.

One Response to Woeful wait

  1. Sanderson Rowe March 21, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    This unavailability of ambulances inspite of them being relatively new, has been plaguing us for the last 25 years. What is so difficult in maintaining and keeping less than 10 ambulance available on a regular basis ?.
    Speaking from experience I was in charge of the maintenance of some 30 ambulances, plus another 25 general service vehicles.These ambulances were much older, more complicated and operated under more demanding conditions, yet the three of us mechanics were able to maintain a 95% availability at all times.
    Purchasing new ambulances every time we break them up, is not the answer.


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