Ailing Health System: 1 Driver for 5 Ambulances

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SRINAGAR: The Primary Health Centre (PHC) at Hazratbal caters to the medical needs of a population of 82,721 in the Hazratbal block consisting predominantly urban and a small proportion of rural and tribal areas.

In 2011, the government launched an ambitious 24X7 service programme at the Hazratbal PHC, 12-odd kms from city centre Lal Chowk. It still lacks the requisite staff for operating health centre round the clock in a hassle free environment. Apart from the pending appointments of other staffers, the PHC has an unusually high shortage of drivers for its ambulances. There is just one driver to run not one, not two, but five ambulances!

These ambulances are to be used in case of emergency and also for the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY, safe motherhood programme, wherein pregnant women are ferried to the nearest health facility free of cost from home to ensure institutional delivery).

Arshad Ahmed, the lone driver said, “I was appointed in October 2013 to drive the ambulances, assisted by another sweeper. I have to take care of five ambulances. Sometimes, we get a number of calls simultaneously for ambulances, as it is not possible for a single driver to go at number of places at same time, our BMO sahiba asks them to arrange the transport for which they are paid in our health centre.”

Even when Ahmed was briefing this reporter the emergency department received a call from an ASHA worker (Accredited Social Health Activist) of Sub Health Centre (SHC), Fakir Gujri, 16 kms from PHC Hazratbal, for shifting a pregnant lady, who was to be brought in for delivery.

The repercussion of non-availability of ambulance drivers is taking a toll on the entire population of the block, including the tribal residents of Fakir Gujri. An ambulance was donated to the SHC by Dean, Government Medical College in 2010. It was later attached to the PHC Hazratbal due to non-appointment of driver.

Raj Muhammad Famda, 75, sarpanch of the area said: “Timely non-availability of ambulances creates a lot of inconvenience to the people in emergency cases, mostly in pregnancy cases. We have to hire local conveyance, who charge hefty sum from us for reaching PHC Hazratbal or Harwan.”

Driver Ahmed was appointed in October 2013, two years after the last serving driver of the PHC retired in December 2011. In fact, that was the time when the ordeal of the PHC began. Dozens of letters with repeated request for appointment of permanent drivers –we are in possession of copies – have remained unheeded till date.

The successive BMOs since 2011 have shot off dozens of letters to the Head of the Department, Social and Preventive Medicine (SPM), Srinagar, who in turn, has forwarded these letters to Dean, Government Medical College, Srinagar for directing the Department concerned in appointing drivers.

In between, for two years, the ambulances were driven by two sweepers and a nursing orderly who were ordered by the Block Medical Officer, Hazratbal (vide order numbers BMOH/Est/62 on April 25, 2012) to drive the ambulances till suitable arrangement for regular drivers were made. Later, two of them were expelled due to non-possession of valid driving license. The third attached sweeper was asked to undertake simultaneous jobs of sweeping and driving the ambulance.

In November 2012, through his letter (vide number BMOH/Est/832-35), BMO Hazratbal even wrote to the HoD, SPM to stop the round-the-clock-facility at the PHC due to insufficient manpower.

A reputed doctor termed the whole issue as “unfortunate” and castigated the health department for its incompetence. “It is very unfortunate case where there is a single driver for five ambulances. I think there should be 10 drivers, in case any driver gets sick, there should be replacement for the said PHC/SHC as there is always patient rush or emergency.”

Talat Ghani, Block Medical Officer, Hazratbal attributed the problem to non-appointment of number of permanent drivers for the ambulances by the government.

“How is a single man supposed to drive five ambulances single handedly and that too, 24 hours a day, 30 days a month? To keep 24 hours services available in our Health Centre, a sweeper with a genuine driving license, is also attached with the driver to divide the works in two shifts,” Ghani said. “Meanwhile, we continue to pay to the people who have to hire private vehicles in case of emergency pregnancy cases.”  

Minister Naqash said that she is busy in an ‘important’ meeting while her aide admitted that PHC Hazratbal like other Health Centres has been facing acute shortage of staff. “Give us some time, we are on it,” he said.

BMO Talat Ghani recently met Asiya Naqash, Hazratbal MLA and Minister of State for Health & Social Welfare Department, regarding the long pending demands, which include the urgent demand for more ambulance drivers. But even after A month of that meeting, the things are as they were. “Nothing has happened so for. There is still a single driver for the five ambulances,” she said. (CNS)

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