Deaths 'not caused by late ambulances'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2008, 12:00am

Patients already dead: fire chief

The fire department has said it is not responsible for the deaths of two patients whose arrival at hospital was delayed when the ambulances carrying them broke down, saying neither of the patients had a pulse when medics arrived.

However, the department was looking to upgrade its ageing ambulance fleet at a quicker pace after several recent breakdowns, Director of Fire Services Gregory Lo Chun-hung said yesterday.

An 86-year-old woman, who died on Monday after collapsing at home, had her arrival at Queen Elizabeth Hospital delayed when her ambulance broke down. And a 60-year-old kidney patient, who died on July 20, was held up for 10 minutes because of a breakdown.

Both patients had to be picked up by replacement ambulances.

'I feel regret over their deaths,' Mr Lo said. 'These people had no pulse or breath upon the arrival of our personnel. Our ambulance crew tried their best to resuscitate them, but that did not help. [Their deaths] have nothing to do with the ambulance breakdowns.'

The director admitted that the age of the department's ambulance fleet accounted for the breakdowns, adding that the recent hot weather could also have contributed, as the air conditioning placed a heavy burden on the vehicles' mechanicals.

He said about 10 newer ambulances had been deployed at Beas River for the Olympic equestrian events, but they had been selected according to their vehicle model rather than age.

According to the department's figures, 64 of its ambulances are more than 10 years old. That represents slightly over a quarter of its 246-strong fleet. The department considers replacing an ambulance after seven years of service.

Mr Lo said 35 new ambulances would be in service from November, and an additional 88 would replace ageing ambulances by next year.

'As the vehicles are intended for emergency calls, the government will offer support to speed up the pace of replacement, and we will consider [making it happen] within this fiscal year,' he said.

He said that in the long term the department would review the criteria for replacing its ambulances.

Uy Tat-ping, deputy director of electrical and mechanical services, who is responsible for check-ups of ambulances, said the regular inspection period would be shortened from four to three months.

As of Monday, a total of 107 ambulance breakdowns had been recorded this month, compared with 117 during the same month last year.

Medical Association chairman Tse Hung-hing said only doctors could certify a death.

'Usually, if there is no obvious wound, even when a patient is without breath and pulse, ambulances would still offer first aid before the patient is transferred to the care of a doctor. A doctor will then inspect and offer whatever treatment is needed to the patient before deciding if he or she is dead or not,' Dr Tse said.

There were at least four cases of ambulance breakdowns yesterday.