NGHE AN — Dozens of ambulances operate in the central province of Nghe An, but only 10 of them are licensed.
Phan Xuan Duan, who lives in Hoa Thanh Commune, Yen Thanh District, said that at the end of last month, his brother fell ill with bronchitis and his family had to call 115, the emergency operator for an ambulance.
The operator told him that all the ambulances were busy, but Duan insisted, so the operator called an ambulance from a private company for Duan.
"However, when the ambulance arrived, we were surprised because there wasn't a doctor, nurse or any emergency aid in sight," said Duan.
The driver quickly drove away after Duan threatened to call the police and report him.
Pham Van Long, deputy director of Hospital 115 said that the ambulance had belonged to the hospital more than a year ago, but they had sold it to a member of the public.
Ngo Xuan Tao, head of the provincial Department of Health's Professional Management Division, said that the 10 licensed ambulance included six from Hospital 115 and four from Truong An Surgery in Dien Chau District. Any others were operating without permits.
"Some of the unlicensed ambulances were bought from hospitals, and others were made to resemble the real thing," he said.
The number of unlicensed ambulances has increased quickly because there are not enough licensed ambulances to cope with the demand, especially in remote areas where there is only one ambulance per district, he added.
"Permit applications are also too strict and complicated," said Tao.
To apply for permits, ambulance owners must demonstrate that they have approval from the Ministry of Health and a certified paramedic and nurse to man the vehicle. They must also be equipped with crutches, a stretcher, an oxygen cylinder and emergency medicine.
The Nghe An Department of Health sent a number of reports to the provincial People's Committee, the Department of Transport and the Transport Police to ask for help but received no reply, said Tao.
Deputy Director of the Nghe An Department of Transport Hoang Van Hue said that the department's inspectors had punished unlicensed ambulance drivers on numerous occasions, but fines of VND3-5 million (US$150-250) were not enough to stop them from re-offending.
"We impound unlicensed ambulances for 30 days based on regulations, but that seems to have little effect," he said.
The department would ask the provincial People's Committee to increase administrative fines, and work with relevant bodies to develop stricter measures to tackle the issue, said Hue. — VNS