Ambulance services to be integrated, brought under one call centre

Doctors from Yangon’s General Hospital and Medical University are overseeing an ambitious plan to integrate and standardise ambulance services in Myanmar, which would include a central call centre.

Due to the underfunding and underequipping of public health services over decades, private charitable groups, numbering in the thousands, provide the vast majority of ambulance services in Myanmar, alongside other vital services.

Though some, like the Free Funeral Service Society in Yangon, are well resourced and have their own busy call centres, most groups are small and highly local, offering a limited level of care and rudimentary equipment. The Myanmar Red Cross also provides emergency care across Myanmar.

The new scheme aims to integrate these disparate services and pool existing resources, as well as promote common standards.

Dr Nay Win Thein, assistant director of Yangon General Hospital, told Myanmar Now, “Currently, when people call for ambulances, they dial the one local number they know. But the relevant ambulance might be already transporting a patient when they receive the emergency call.”

“That’s why we’ve discussed with international experts about developing a system operating around a call centre, with different ambulance services on rotation,” he said.

The system would eventually cover the whole country, he said, and would allow emergency patients to be sent to hospitals without delay and without charge.

More than 140 charities in Yangon currently provide ambulance services. President of the Shwe Thanlyin charity U Aung Naing Win said all, or most, would potentially be routed through the new call centre.

A comprehensive ambulance licensing system, emergency care courses for all rescue workers, a standardised uniform and logo, and common use of sirens will also be discussed at an upcoming workshop, pending approval from Yangon’s chief minister.

Aung Naing Win said greater legal safeguards for rescue workers were also needed: “When a patient dies on the road, some people say it’s because we drove the ambulance recklessly. Our good will is then seen as ill will. In cases like this, we need to be protected by the law.”

U Myint Zaw from Ko Gyi & Brothers, another charity, pointed out other challenges, and said it was unlikely the scheme would cover all groups now operating.

“Now, the government is confiscating vehicles without licenses and this includes ambulances owned by our charitable groups,” he said.

“We only help when we are free,” he added, referring to the fact that most rescue workers with charities are volunteers and can only assist outside of their normal work lives.

“Who can order us to help when we are not free?” he said.

Editing by Ben Dunant

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