A few years ago, the Mumbai fire brigade spent close to Rs 10 crore of the exchequer’s money to purchase six Emergency Medical Service (EMS) vans. They are now lying idle in different civic-run hospitals across the city. The three drivers assigned to each van in morning, afternoon and night shifts have been sitting twiddling their thumbs, getting paid for practically no services rendered.
Since January 2012, five of these vans have been stationed at Nair, Sion, Rajawadi, Bhabha and Bhagwati hospitals. The sixth one shuttles between these hospitals. The drivers belong to the fire department.
A senior fire officer said, requesting anonymity, “The department is already facing shortage of drivers, and with three drivers blocked for each of these vans at various hospitals, it is simply a waste of manpower and public money. The department has spent approximately Rs 1.5 crore per EMS van.”
These EMS vans are equipped with oxygen cylinders, ventilators, ECG and CPR machines, which can be used to save lives in case of cardiac emergencies. But the drivers claim that paramedical staff of the hospitals seldom make use of the said equipment for any cardiac cases, and more often than not use the vans to shift indoor patients from the hospital to diagnostic centres for MRIs or CT scans or to transfer them from peripheral to bigger hospitals, in the absence of regular hospital vans.
“Apart from the hospital head, we also have to follow orders from the fire control, informing us about any major fire, or any collapsed house or building. We are not expected to leave the van unattended during duty hours. And for transfer of hospital patients, usually the regular hospital vans are used. Only when they are absent are the fire EMS vans used,” said a driver from the fire brigade.
Nitay Mehta, founder trustee of Praja Foundation, said, “It is unfortunate that the civic authorities have not done any cost benefit analysis while procuring these EMS vans, spending taxpayers’ money. By not allowing access to the ordinary people round the clock during cardiac emergencies, such vans are being wasted.”
Ironically, though the health department is using the vans, their purchase was made from the fire department’s budget and the fuel cost and salaries are being paid by the fire department instead of the health department.
“It is unfortunate that the public cannot call in for these vans for any cardiac emergency, which should ideally be the case. This is a classic case of bureaucratic red-tapism. The civic run hospitals are already facing shortage of trained paramedics,” said James John of the NGO AGNI.
Asked about waste of manpower and resources, Fire Chief S V Joshi said, “The EMS vans have been used in the past during firefighting operations for fires like the ones in Mantralaya, Manish Market and Akruti. Such investments are never a waste.”
Dr Seema Malik, chief superintendent of Peripheral hospitals, also denied that there was any shortage of paramedical staff and said that the fire department’s EMS vans are very much in use.
Additional Municipal Commissioner (health) Manisha Mhaiskar said, “The purchase of EMS vans were done by the transport department and I do not know about the money spent on the procurement. The vans are being used by the hospitals as and when required.”
Vans equipped with:
>> Oxygen cylinders
>> ECG machine
>> CPR machine