Life-saving equipment lying unused
At a time when intensive care unit (ICU) support is so much in need, a state-of-the-art ambulance worth Tk 1.5 crore has just been lying idle at Rajshahi Medical College Hospital (RMCH) for over two years.
Officials pointed to a lack of skilled staffers to operate the vehicle as an explanation.
The air-conditioned ambulance, which can provide mobile ICU support to patients, did not carry a single person since it arrived at RMCH.
According to hospital officials, the ambulance was sent to RMCH in May, 2019, after it was procured for Tk 1,50,44,855 by Director General of Drug Administration.
Operating the ambulance and its equipment requires a skilled team of doctors and nurses, and a policy on how to operate, RMCH Director Brig Gen Shamim Yazdani told The Daily Star.
"We could not prepare the required team and policy, as we had to deal with the surge of Covid-19 patients," he said, adding that they could not fix allowances of doctors and nurses for this service or the ambulance fare in time.
During a recent visit to RMCH, this correspondent saw ambulance driver Ashraful Ali opening the garage, switching on the ICU ambulance, and powering up electronic equipment inside the vehicle.
The ambulance has some 40 kinds of life-saving apparatuses, including mobile ventilators, an ECG monitor, a defibrillator, suction unit, nebuliser, and an oxygen supply unit, hospital officials said.
This correspondent saw that all the apparatuses were wrapped in plastic, as they have never been used. Half an hour later, the ambulance driver powered everything down and came out, closing the garage's shutters.
"I do it [turning the vehicle and equipment on] almost every day, so the machines don't rust," Ali said.
"None have so far asked for the ambulance," he said, adding that no fare was fixed yet for operating the vehicle. Normal ambulances of the hospital charge a patient Tk 5,600 for transporting them to Dhaka.
A cardiologist at RMCH said many deaths could have been avoided, if the ambulance was in use.
Seeking anonymity, he said, the ambulance can provide emergency services right after picking up patients, and thus, potentially save lives. "But such a useful vehicle is not being used because of the sheer negligence of authorities."
Ahmed Shafi Uddin, president of Sushasoner Jonno Nagarik (Sujan), Rajshahi chapter, said authorities should investigate the negligence.
"Not all citizens have the ability to hire air-ambulances for critical patients. This [ICU] ambulance could have provided some hope for them," he said.
Shafi urged authorities to provide and subsidise high-end ambulance service to save lives.
The RMCH director said they talked with government high-ups and were directed to start operating the ambulance like a normal one. Whether the specialised equipment will be used during such operation remains to be known.
"We will launch the ambulance officially in seven days. If someone wants the ambulance before its launching, we will allow it to go on hire at normal rates," he added.