Elderly man declared dead at hospital after ambulance failure leads to 12-minute delay

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 June, 2009, 12:00am

Relatives of an elderly man who was declared dead six minutes after reaching hospital and whose journey was delayed 12 minutes by a mechanical breakdown yesterday called on the government to swiftly replace the city's ageing ambulance fleet.

Tsui Kan-wo, 83, collapsed while exercising in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay. His friend, a 72-year-old woman, called police at 7.13am.

A fire engine was sent first, arriving at 7.16am, according to the Fire Services Department. 'The patient had no pulse and was not breathing when our officers arrived. Firemen used a defibrillator and cardiac massage on him,' a spokeswoman said.

A 10-year-old ambulance, which had returned to service a week ago after repairs, arrived at 7.22am - within the department's pledge of responding to a call within 12 minutes.

After the unconscious Tsui was placed in the ambulance, the engine would not restart, and its driver alerted the control centre at 7.34am. Another ambulance picked up Tsui at 7.46am and got him to Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai at 7.52am. He was declared dead at 7.58am.

The spokeswoman said the ambulance breakdown caused a 12-minute delay in getting Tsui to hospital. But she did not say whether the delay contributed to his death.

Tsui's god-daughter-in-law, surnamed Wong, said the elderly man, who had heart problems and high blood pressure, had been saved last year after collapsing in the same park and being sent to the same hospital.

She said the government was to blame for the death because it owned the ambulance and was responsible for its maintenance.

'The government should speed up replacing old ambulances as much as possible, because they are emergency vehicles used to save our lives,' she said. Tsui's younger brother said he hoped the government would improve the maintenance of ambulances, but said he would not pursue the case.

Tsui lived alone in Causeway Bay. On Thursday night, he was among 150,000 people in Victoria Park taking part in the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Yesterday's incident was the latest in a series of mechanical problems that have plagued the city's ageing ambulance fleet.

Figures showed that 29 ambulances broke down last month, up from 20 in April and 16 in March. Excluding yesterday's case, there have been seven cases so far this month.

The department said 182 new ambulances would be put into service by next year, on top of 35 introduced in March. That would reduce the fleet's average age from about 8 years to 1.6 years, the spokeswoman said.

The department would continue to press the supplier to make an early delivery of new ambulances, saying 35 would arrive later this month and 30 more would become available later this year.