Ambulance union decries lack of staff
'Unfair' allocation of resources blamed for inadequate service amid rise in demand
People are dying because a lack of resources is preventing ambulances from upholding their performance pledge to arrive within 12 minutes, a union chief has claimed.
Ambulancemen's Union chairman Wat Ki-on was speaking as a special meeting of the union yesterday decided to ask the government and Legislative Council to investigate the 'unfair' allocation of resources within the Fire Services Department (FSD), which operates the city's ambulances.
'The workload of ambulancemen has risen by 15 per cent, meaning an increase of about 10,000 calls a day during the past few years,' Mr Wat said.
To compensate, they were given 52 additional ambulancemen.
Meanwhile, he said fire service staff numbers had risen by 30 officers and 20 firemen, even though its workload had decreased by 16 per cent.
'This year alone, we need at least 300 to 400 more ambulancemen to cope with the increased workload,' Mr Wat said.
He said Ambulance Command received just $8 million out of the FSD's annual budget of $30 million, which he added was not enough.
A fact sheet provided by the FSD showed that last year, firefighters responded to a total of 55,151 fire and special services calls, while the Ambulance Command responded to 574,901 calls.
FSD deputy director Kwok Jing-keung said he could not offer more resources.
He suggested the service get outside help from Auxiliary Medical Services or the voluntary St John Ambulance Brigade.
But the union said this could compromise ambulance services.
Mr Wat said the union would also push for Ambulance Command to become an independent department.
Legislator Kwok Ka-ki, of the medical sector, agreed there should be reforms and a fair allocation of resources within the FSD.
'The Ambulance Command should be given more men, but that will not be enough unless people stop abusing the free ambulance services,' Dr Kwok said. 'We need to adopt a user-pays concept, where the urgent and underprivileged are exempted, to curb the abuse.'
A spokesman for the Security Bureau said the FSD was in talks with staff to 'resolve issues of common concern'.
'Legco's panel on security will discuss the provisions of the emergency ambulance service at its meeting on June 7, after which they will explain in detail the measures that have been adopted and measures that are under study,' the spokesman said.