by Vincent Low
Last Monday (29 Jan 2018), it was reported that the Ministry of Health intends to table a new Bill, "Healthcare Services Bill" to regulate private ambulances.
When it is passed, the Bill will differentiate between emergency ambulance services for acute patients vs medical transport services for stable patients.
Under the new Bill, emergency ambulance services will need to employ a clinical director who will be accountable for the maintenance of high standards in providing emergency care. The clinical director will be expected to conduct an audit, as well as training and protocol development.
Also, the ambulances will need to be fitted with emergency equipment and even GPS to cater to the acute patients enroute to hospitals.
The medical transport vehicles, on the other hand, do not need to have those sophisticated equipment installed. However, the new Bill will ban them from fitting with blinkers and sirens.
Emergency ambulances can be used to transport both acute and stable patients while the medical transport vehicles can only cater to patients in stable condition.
Some of the private ambulance operators have already expressed their unhappiness with the new Bill.
Operation supervisor at First Ambulance, Khai Mazlan, said that patients' conditions which are stable originally could deteriorate enroute and may need immediate medical attention at the nearest hospital.
She said, "Once there was a patient who was bleeding in the ambulance, his blood pressure started to drop and we needed to rush him to the nearest hospital." That means the vehicle would require blinkers and sirens.
Director of Comfort Ambulance & Services Eugene Yang, added, "Sometimes, the cases we take could be non-emergency in nature. But patients' conditions could deteriorate, and they could be upgraded to (an) emergency."
Hence, not being able to use sirens or blinkers in such situations would pose a problem, he said.
Essentially, the new Bill is forcing the private ambulance operators to upgrade their present fleet of ambulances to match the high standards stipulated by the Bill in order for their ambulances to be qualified for emergency ambulance services.
Mr Yang said he will be investing at least S$200,000 to convert his 26 vehicles into emergency ambulances. He will also upgrade the GPS systems in the ambulances, he said, adding that the cost will inevitably reflect in fees, hurting patients' pockets.
Editor's note - If you are not aware, Singapore Civil Defence Force outsources its emergency service calls to private ambulances, a practice which started in 2009. The emergency ambulances have to meet its standard in order to be accepted as part of its fleet.
It was revealed in the hearings of the Little India Riot commission of inquiry that a private ambulance attended to the fatal accident in December 2013. It refused to pick up the body of the deceased Indian national due to protocols and the body was left exposed to the public eye, which is said to have aggravated the crowd leading up to the eruption of the riot.
According to SCDF's report, it responded to 178,154 Emergency Medical Service calls in 2016. This was 7.4% more calls compared to 2015. Based on an average annual increase of 5%, the number of calls will double in 15 years times and SCDF has been recruiting more private ambulances under its 2009 scheme.