Ambulances 'summoned for mosquito bites'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 January, 2009, 12:00am

Fire services chief defends service

Mosquito bites and constipation have been used as reasons for calling an ambulance, the director of fire services told the Legco Public Accounts Committee yesterday.

The Director of Audit's annual report, released in October, said that 40.5 per cent of patients carried by ambulances did not really need the service. This sparked concerns among lawmakers that the Fire Services Department's publicity campaign, launched in 2005 to discourage misuse of ambulance service, had been ineffective.

But the department's director, Gregory Lo Chun-hung, rejected the criticism. 'Our research showed that half of the patients using ambulance services were either in critical conditions or [their] life was in danger; 28 per cent were in serious condition. Only 22 per cent were either not serious or non-urgent.'

Mr Lo said although there were records of patients who suffered from mosquito bites or constipation calling for an ambulance, more accurate analysis on the use of the services could be made when the electronic journey records were implemented later this year.

The department would also work with the Hospital Authority to develop ways to enable staff to better identify patients' conditions to minimise delays due to misuse.

Legislators were also concerned that the department had failed to meet the performance target in answering emergency calls. An ambulance should reach a patient within 12 minutes 92.5 per cent of the time. The department introduced a system in 2005 aimed at improving the response time, but the performance actually deteriorated. Mr Lo blamed this on increased traffic congestion, although lawmakers said insufficient numbers of ambulances accounted for the underperformance.

'A consultancy study commissioned by the department in 2001 had shown 292 vehicles should be deployed during the night shifts and 145 vehicles during the day. This targeted provision exceeds the current ambulance fleet by almost 100 per cent,' Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said. He urged the department to assess whether boosting the number of ambulances would help meet targets.

Lawmakers said the department's stopgap measures, such as requiring staff to work overtime, should be addressed with urgent recruitment.

Mr Lo admitted that he had insufficient staff. Although resources were provided to increase manpower, demand for services had outpaced this help. 'From 2005 to 2007, the number of emergency calls increased by 6.4 per cent whereas manpower level only increased by 3.7 per cent.'