Criticism for late ambulances

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 December, 2010, 12:00am

The Ombudsman has criticised the Hospital Authority's non-emergency ambulance service for being late half of the time.

In one case, a patient had to stay overnight in a hospital because an ambulance did not arrive to pick her up until the next day.

'The delay and uncertainty of the services not only frustrate patients and their families, they also impose unnecessary medical cost on the authority as doctors and nurses have to wait for the patients,' Alan Lai Nin said. 'In the case of the patient who was forced to stay an additional night in hospital, it was a waste of hospital resources.'

Lai said some patients became so frustrated with the services that they hired private vans, including some vehicles that had been illegally converted and installed with facilities for the disabled. The poor services had contributed to a high cancellation rate of 17 to 25 per cent - meaning up to one in four patients cancel trips.

The authority's non-emergency ambulance service, launched in 1990, offers free transport for patients travelling between their home and a public hospital or clinic in non-emergency cases for treatment.

The Ombudsman's office said the Hospital Authority pledged to have 70 per cent of its outpatients arriving in hospitals and clinics within 30 minutes of the appointment time. However, more than half of the calls failed to meet the target in the past three years.

In his report, Lai called for an overhaul and a long-term strategy for the service. There are 133 non-emergency ambulances and 353 staff handling more than 400,000 bookings a year. Lai said the government might consider allowing private service providers to cater to paying patients.

The Hospital Authority agreed with the Ombudsman's findings and said it would set up a task force to review performance standards, service monitoring and improvement.