First step between life and death

It is gratifying to learn the Barbados Emergency Ambulance Service will be getting what have been described as “four additional vehicles” –– perhaps, four replacements is more accurate –– in the next two months.

It is heart-warming indeed to be apprised of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s (QEH) “resumed” ambulance fleet replacement programme by director of support services Louise Bobb; touching that the new vehicles will by Christmas join the six the Ambulance Service currently has –– a number that must be woefully inadequate for the proper servicing of this island.

Ms Bobb’s recent announcements are surely encouraging; but they will hardly be consoling for the family of 60-year-old watchman Orville Moore. Mr Moore, who himself worked for a health care institution –– the Warrens Polyclinic –– perished at the roadside on President Kennedy Drive on Friday night after been ridden down by a hit-and-run motorcyclist.

The report is that a QEH ambulance was called for, and promised; but it would take close to an hour to arrive for the writhing victim, who would die unattended by paramedics.

And while the police continue their investigations into the road fatality and their plea to the public to give whatever information they can about the fleeing motorcyclist and cycle, Ms Bobb is carrying out her own probe into what exactly happened ambulance-side. And we await her findings with bated breath.

We are not unaware that because of the low number of QEH ambulances, and the consequent pressure brought to bear, that the hospital has been urging people seeking transportation to the institution to use their own means, or seek the services of private suppliers. But certainly greatest priority ought to be given, as far as the QEH ambulance service is concerned, to serious road accidents, especially at which death stalks the victim or victims, so that first aid and proper prepping might be applied for more successful detailed care at the Accident & Emergency Department.

It is worrying that the scene of Orville Moore’s fatal accident was little more than a stone’s throw from the headquarters of the Ambulance Emergency Services, and that the watchman would have to wait nigh 60 minutes for transportation –– in vain. The inordinate long time in waiting may have robbed him of the chance of survival.

Which begs the question: will the proposed “further” decentralizing of the QEH ambulance services make a big difference when vehicle numbers cannot get past ten, and if response, for one reason or another, is not as full-bone as it ought to be? Will this decentralization obviate future ugly outcomes like the Moore incident on President Kennedy Drive?

What was disturbingly interesting in this case is that there seemed to be no one on the scene who did or could render appropriate first aid. The QEH’s Ms Bobb boasts the Ambulance Emergency Service works “very closely with schools and service clubs”, and engages in “continuing education for dispatchers, paramedics and EMTs”.

We applaud the continual training of technical staff, but wonder exactly what kind of essential engagement with the schools and service clubs obtains beyond visits and addresses. It is not unknown in Barbados for the suddenly sick or injured to die in circumstances where simple first aid could have made a difference. And these include cases of cardiac arrest, asthma attacks and even choking on food.

First aid knowledge and application could have made a emphatic difference under these conditions, either by direct intervention, in the case of choking, or by identifying life-threatening signs, such as a heart attack, and caring for the victim until professional medical help arrived.

Which brings us to the St John Ambulance Association of Barbados that used to vigorously campaign and encourage ordinary people to learn this vital skill of first aid. Ms Bobb does not specifically allude to this organization, probably only including under the category of service clubs. Whatever the case, there seems to be a need for a more definitive collaboration between the St John Ambulance and the QEH support services insofar as public education in first aid is concerned.

In the United States, where ambulance service and response are projected as pristinely efficient and fired by a high sense of urgency, observers yet say victims succumbing for lack of simple first aid are more than four times the number of people who die of lung cancer each year, the most common cause of cancer deaths there.

This ought to stir an awakening in us; get us to smell the coffee. We need to arm ourselves with the knowledge of what to do for the Orville Moores when the hospital ambulances are long in coming. And we need to gratefully donate to the St John Ambulance, the charity, who through its first aid programmes could make the difference between your life and your death.


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