The Fault In Our Ambulance Services
A student from VS Hall has haemophilia, a disease in which the body lacks clotting factor and once bleeding starts, only external agents can stop bleeding. In Rourkela, Factor VIII (required to stop bleeding) is found only in RGH. He stretched his legs while playing badminton on 29 January, without recognizing that he had an internal muscle tear. The next day when he woke up, his legs had swollen miserably after 7 hours of internal bleeding. We immediately called the doctor at the dispensary. However, there was no reply. We called the chief warden and he responded immediately by calling the ambulance. The driver was told twice by the chief warden to take the patient to RGH. However, he misheard that as IGH. As the ambulance neared IGH, we asked the driver if he was taking us to RGH and then he responded that institute ambulance isn't allowed to go to RGH. Our institute ambulance only covers dropping patients at CWS or IGH. So, he immediately stopped the ambulance and asked us to call the chief warden to take his permission. When we called back, the chief warden immediately asked the driver to take the patient to RGH. He further refused by saying that his manager has asked him not to go to RGH unless a doctor refers. However, the sad story was that the doctor did not pick up the call that day. In spite of repeated requests from the chief warden, the manager of the ambulance didn't agree and we were forced to step down mid-way and go to RGH by Ola cab.
This recent incident has triggered pressing scepticism among the students of NIT Rourkela regarding the institute ambulance services. The debacle has raised concerns among faculty and students alike. In this backdrop, Team Monday Morning set off to gather facts about the functionality of the ambulance and people at the apex of the service. We collected complaints against the institute ambulance service on a form and will soon be sending an official proposal to Dean Student welfare regarding the same. The dean and the officials though concerned do agree that there is a scope of improvement and remained in denial to give statements before written proposals or litigations are offered to their desk. Medical healthcare is a basic amenity that cannot be left to deteriorate on its own. However, the grip of ‘procedures’ and ‘courtesies’ at the expense of medical aid is questionable to an extent that demanding an overhaul and strengthening our medical aid services becomes indispensable. The issues with the ambulance services also come to light when the dispensary services are questioned.
NIT Rourkela operates only one ambulance vehicle for over 6000 students and staff. The ambulance service and its driver is outsourced from a vendor MAMA travels and Prof. Debasis Chaira (Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering) is the PIC for the same. Stationed at the South block guest house, the ambulance is available 24x7 and managed by the transport service contractor of the institute. The ambulance service has provisions to take patients to CWS, IGH and Dr Patnaik, a gynaecologist. According to the existing norm, to go to any hospital other than the above three, a referral from the medical officer of the institute health centre is needed. For transportation of multiple patients at a single instance, either one has to call ambulances from outside or wait for the institute ambulance to come back or quite benevolently, use ‘self-transportation’ like the above complaint states. Responding to the above complaint, the Manager of the institute ambulance service, Mr Manoj informed:
We didn’t have permission to take a patient to RGH without a referral. Hence I asked them to make a call to the institute doctor and if that was not possible, even if an official like the Chief Warden or the Warden would have recommended then we would have taken the patient. But the students said that they couldn’t connect to anyone. If the chief warden would have recommended it, then they have obviously been allowed. The ambulance service is for the whole institute and we have to follow the rules to ensure that it is not misutilized. Hence I asked them to make alternate arrangements.
The student still claimed that they had contacted the chief warden and the permission was denied in spite of the word from the Chief Warden. The phone records also suggested a conversation with the Chief Warden.
The student also mentions,
While we pay money for medical services, we are not getting basic services during emergencies. Even under dire circumstances, vendors and several other contractors of our institute lack basic humanitarian values.
It is also to be noted that any complaint regarding the services is directed to Prof. Chaira and the administration instead of the dispensary. Another complaint against the ambulance service was received from the organising team of the recently concluded Inter NIT tournament. Biswajit Sena, Manager in the First Aid Team of Inter NIT Tournament 2020 said:
Ambulance system during Inter NIT 2020 was very bad. On the 1st day of Inter NIT, the ambulance driver was not present in the ambulance which was parked near DTS . When I called him, he told that he was taking another patient from Institute .When we asked him that how ambulance was present at DTS when he was taking another patient? He told that he was taking the patient by another vehicle. For this reason we had to wait for 30 mins . It was a very bad situation for our organising team infront of other NITs . We have no idea that whose fault it is . If he is not lying then institute should arrange 2 ambulance drivers . If he is lying, then strict action should be taken against him.
The responses gathered by our form circulated over social media and individual accounts recorded shed further light on some problematic issues of the ambulance services. Be it delay or lethargy from the services. A student wrote:
One of my friends was in need of an ambulance on 16th January midnight (17th January). So, I called the Ambulance driver urgently using our emergency contact board in our hall. But the number of the driver was switched off. It is seriously an alarming situation for the institute as NITR outsource these facilities and if the service is readily not available at night then seriously the life of our students and the staff are at stake.
Another student recounts:
Around one month ago, one of my friends was suffering from a severe headache. It was around 11 PM at night when we called for an ambulance. Initially, the person who picked up said that he was arriving in a while but even after waiting for half an hour, the ambulance didn’t come. In the end, we had to take him to CWS Hospital on a cycle.
Another student from KMS hall of residence recounted:
During Summer, one of my friends was suffering from severe lower abdominal pain and the condition was so severe that she fell and couldn’t even walk. It was afternoon and we decided to call the ambulance. After not receiving the call two or three times, the driver finally picked up only to say that he was having lunch. On repeatedly insisting, he said that he would take an hour to come but as she was suffering a lot, we had to take her to CWS in an auto.
The next complaint was received from MV hall of residence. The general secretary of the hall, Rajesh Kumar Sahu recounts:
In November, one of our PhD boarders was suffering from viral fever and we called the ambulance service of the institute. We all went in the ambulance but once we reached Jagda gate, the ambulance stopped. When I enquired why the ambulance had stopped, the driver told me that fuel was over! Then we had to walk with the patient for the rest of the journey to CWS hospital.
This was a case of viral fever; imagine if it was a patient from an accident who had to be rushed to the hospital. Or imagine if a patient has to be taken to a distant hospital for emergency services and the ambulance stops midway. Fuel getting over in an ambulance which happens to be the only ambulance in the institute is the epitome of negligence which had the potential to but thankfully didn’t result in any loss of life. Regarding this particular incident, the general secretary had written an official complaint to the Warden of MV hall of residence who in turn had taken the matter up with the then Dean Student Welfare Prof. S.K Patel.
With these complaints against the institute ambulance service, there have also been suggestions recorded from the form circulation. Team Monday Morning also proposes a number of developments based on the ground research and individual accounts:
Procurement of another ambulance to cater to the needs of over 6000 students and staff.
Increase in leniency with regards to ambulance service to ensure that no genuine patient suffers because of the strict rules.
Checks on any lethargy from the drivers.
Regulating contact numbers mentioned in various halls that remain unavailable when called.
The default answers and course of administrative action has always cited the lack of funds and ‘official’ procedure that only takes place after rounds of discourse among the administrative body. But for a premier institute with over 6000 students and staff, lack of funds for an ambulance is an argument which is very difficult to buy and with proper mobilisation of resources, ensuring that proper emergency services are provided to the residents is not as difficult as it is said. Moreover, even before procuring another ambulance, we need to ensure that the rules such as the need for a referral and services only to three hospitals are made more lenient. Misutilization of ambulance services might be a possibility, but facilitating the suffering of a genuine patient just to prevent a misutilization which may or may not happen doesn’t make sense. Also, if students get a service which genuinely helps them in times of need, they are wise enough to understand that misutilizing the service is against their own interests.
Team MM hopes that these suggestions are taken seriously to ensure better emergency medical aid services in our institute.