Ambulance servicing on a par with global standards, agency says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 December, 2009, 12:00am

The agency that maintains 90 per cent of the government's vehicles has hit back at a coroner who said its services were amateurish and outdated.

The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department said its staff were professional and experienced, and their work was up to international standards.

'We follow the maintenance procedures very stringently and the service quality meets international standards,' the department's airport and vehicles manager, Larry Li Ying-ming, said.

Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu criticised the service on Monday during the inquest into the deaths of three patients who died after the ambulances sent to collect them broke down. Chan had earlier advised the Fire Services Department, which pays the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department HK$20 million a year to maintain its vehicles, to 'change garages'.

Li said the number of ambulance breakdowns had dropped by more than 60 per cent this year - from 478 reports of breakdowns between May and October last year to 179 for the same period this year - after his department introduced more stringent checks in August last year.

Ambulance checks are now conducted at least once every three months, more frequently for heavily used vehicles. The department has also placed maintenance staff at depots for emergency repairs.

'I believe the Fire Services Department has confidence in our services,' Li said. 'We are also experienced in ambulance maintenance. Our services are on a par with other big garages.'

Li said the ageing ambulance fleet - with an average 8.4 years in service - was a big reason for the frequent breakdowns last year.

The Fire Services Department said 196 new ambulances were due to arrive next year, and their inclusion would lower the average age of the fleet to 1.9 years.

Shum Kwok-leung, a senior assistant chief ambulance officer, said the maintenance contract ran until 2015 but the service was open to the coroner's advice.

'There will be some risks if we are to change the garage,' he said. 'We are expecting improvements in maintenance services, but it is a long-term partnership.'

Fewer breakdowns

The Fire Services Department reported 478 ambulance breakdowns from May to October last year

The figure for the same period this year dropped to: 179