Kanchanpur ambulance drivers hesitant to ferry Covid-19 patientsWhile families of patients complain of a lack of ambulance services, ambulance drivers say they worry about their health safety.
Nabaraj Joshi of Mahendranagar, the district headquarters of Kanchanpur, was busy throughout Friday looking for an ambulance to take his Covid-19-infected mother to Dadeldhura. Since all Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and High Dependency Unit (HDU) beds were full at Mahakali Hospital, the only Covid-19 hospital in Kanchanpur, Joshi had decided to take his 66-year-old mother to the Sub-Regional Hospital in Dadeldhura.
It was late in the evening when Joshi finally managed to find an ambulance driver willing to take his mother to Dadeldhura. He promised a fare of Rs 25,000 for the 150 km trip to Dadeldhura from Mahendranagar. But upon learning of his mother’s Covid-19 status, the driver refused to take them.
“I spent the whole day searching for an ambulance. I called up more than a dozen ambulance drivers but they refused to take my mother to the hospital under various pretexts,” said Joshi. “I finally decided to install an oxygen cylinder in my car and take her to the hospital myself. We ran out of oxygen on the way but we somehow made it to the hospital on time.”
According to Joshi, his mother is receiving treatment in Dadeldhura and her health is gradually improving. “If I had waited for an ambulance, I would’ve lost my mother,” he said. “I can’t believe that ambulances are refusing to take coronavirus patients to hospitals at a time like this.”
A 34-year-old school teacher from Kanchanpur died on Friday since he could not be taken to a hospital on time. His family had been trying to take him to Dadeldhura for the past three days after he complained of breathing difficulties but they could not find an ambulance.
“I talked to 21 ambulance drivers. All of them refused to take him to Dadeldhura. Some said they did not have oxygen while others said their vehicles were not in a good condition to travel long distances,” said Dambar Joshi, a fellow teacher.
“One ambulance driver finally agreed but the ambulance did not have oxygen bottles. We had no alternative but to board the ambulance. The patient died on the way.”
With Covid-19 cases soaring in Kanchanpur for the past few weeks and hospitals in the district filled to capacity, most local residents have no option but to take their infected family members outside the district for treatment.
There are a total of six ICU, 15 HDU and 50 isolation beds at the Mahakali Hospital. All of them are fully occupied. According to the District Health Office, there are a total of 403 active cases in Kanchanpur at present. And as many as 14 people have died of Covid-19 in the district since April 7.
The local people have urged the District Administration Office and the health authorities to expand the institutional capacity in the Covid-19 hospital and take action against the ambulance drivers who refuse to provide services to Covid-19 patients.
Ambulance drivers, on the other hand, say they have been refusing to ferry Covid-19 patients to hospitals since they are not equipped to handle such cases. A lack of personal protective equipment and low allowances have discouraged the drivers from providing services to Covid-19 patients.
“We don’t have PPE and other medical equipment required for our own safety,” said Niranjan Prasad Bhatta, an ambulance driver in Kanchanpur. “It is very risky to carry coronavirus patients. We have to work round the clock and get no perks or risk allowances.”
But the district’s Red Cross office, which operates ambulances, says they have been following health protocols and have provided PPEs and other medical gear to ambulance drivers. “We will take action against the drivers if we receive any complaints,” said Narendra Raj Joshi, an official at the district Red Cross office.
Chief District Officer Ram Kumar Mahato said his office will hold a meeting with the ambulance drivers to sort out the issue.
“We will listen to their grievances and direct them to provide ambulance services by following health protocols. Necessary action will be taken against them for non-compliance,” said Mahato.