Every day, ambulances can be seen on many public roads in the capital and provinces, and not all of them require patients to pay transportation fees.
Sok Srun, director of the Hospital Service Department at the Ministry of Health, told The Post that if a public ambulance transported the victims of traffic accidents from the scene to a state-run hospital, there would be no charge.
“The cost is covered by the state. It is a huge burden, but we introduced it to alleviate the people’s hardship. The government spends an average of $40,000 to $50,000 a day on this service,” he said.
Without naming a particular hospital or clinic, Srun said he is aware that some private ambulances pick up patients at the scene of road accidents and take them to their own businesses, under the pretext of intervening to save lives.
“They usually claim they had received a call from the victim’s relatives and that the main reason they had to collect the victim was to save their life. This is often an excuse they use to take advantage of the victims by providing them with high-cost treatment and other services,” he added.
Srun offered praise to those hospitals and private clinics which used their private ambulances according to the health ministry’s guidelines. Transporting patients to state referral hospitals is a valuable service and frees up the ministry’s ambulances, he said.
The ministry now has about 400 ambulances across the country, but this number is not enough to meet current demand.
Chreung Narith, deputy director of Kampong Cham Provincial Referral Hospital, told The Post that the province has 10 referral hospitals and 89 health centres, but only 40 ambulances. Of those, eight were out of order because of their age.
“Transporting patients remains a challenge for us. The Kampong Cham referral hospital transports no less than 200 patients in an average month,” he said.
He noted that an ambulance has to be equipped with oxygen tanks, stretchers, painkillers and other medicines and must have at least one nurse aboard.
“What is really important is that when someone calls an ambulance, we need to have a very clear understanding of the location, the number of victims and their condition. We aim to prepare the ambulance, and the nurse, as best we can,” said In Sophearoth, chief of staff of the ambulance team at the hospital.
He said his team has nine ambulances, but three of them are currently off the road for maintenance. This meant the hospital faced some problems transporting traffic accident casualties and had faced some criticism. This had led some private clinics to take the opportunity to transport crash victims to their own facilities.
“We do not charge fees for taking traffic accident victims to hospital. We don’t charge for returning a corpse home, either,” he added.
Ke Vanna, owner of Ke Vanna Clinic in Kampong Chhnang province, told The Post that his clinic has several ambulances which are equipped with standard medical equipment and can transport critically ill patients at an affordable price.
“We transport all patients, even those who have been involved in traffic accidents, as long as we receive a call asking for our help,” he said.
He added that bringing a victim from an accident scene to his clinic was free, but they would be charged for treatment and additional medical services.
Both the police, and the relatives of accident victims, had called his clinic asking for the help of his ambulances, he added.
Akiko Sasaki, director of Side by Side International (SBSI)’s Cambodia office – an NGO that provides training to ambulance staff – told The Post last week that she was happy to see the development of ambulance services which could respond to emergencies and get people to hospital as quickly as possible.
She said in 2008, SBSI donated several ambulances to public hospitals and assisted with training. At that time, the cost meant many people refused to be transported by ambulance even though they were seriously injured. Nowadays most people do not hesitate to call an ambulance following a traffic accident.
She said SBSI donated ambulances and medical equipment only to the institutions that they could trust would maintain them and use them for the public good.
“If we are not careful, they could be used by some private medical facilities when they are supposed to be used for public services, and some may not maintain the vehicles.
“I heard that some public hospitals handed over some of the ambulances donated from SBSI some years ago to other provinces when they got newer models. We think this is good because SBSI cannot decide which hospitals will be trustworthy,” she said.
Sasaki said that the number of public hospital ambulances is currently inadequate; therefore public hospitals cannot transport all patients.
“We know there are some private hospitals which run ambulance services purely for profit and treat patients in a poor manner, however. We hope there will be improvement in this area,” she added.