More doctors and patients are calling for the ban on the city's free ambulance service taking patients to private hospitals to be scrapped. Responding to complaints, the Medical Association and several legislators say the present system denies patients the right to prompt specialist care and emergency operations. Public ambulances, which are run by the Fire Services Department, are required to take patients to the nearest public hospital emergency unit. They do not heed requests to go to the city's 13 private hospitals. The guidelines aim to make sure patients receive prompt care, but the Medical Association says the practice is instead delaying treatment. 'These rigid rules are wasting public resources and denying patients' right to private hospital services,' association president Dr Choi Kin said yesterday. 'Why can't patients have the right to be sent to private hospitals if their doctors have already assessed their conditions and got the private bed or operation room ready? Patients sent to accident and emergency rooms often have to wait for hours before they can be seen by a specialist.' Choi cited the example of heart patients who might need urgent surgery and whose private doctors, knowing their medical history, could book an operating theatre before they arrived at the private hospital. The association met Undersecretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok last month to express its concerns. Security Bureau figures show that among 40,000 calls for ambulances last year, about 200 patients asked to be taken to private hospitals, but most of their requests were denied. As public medical services become increasingly strained, health authorities have been aiming to encourage greater use of private medical resources. Choi said after the meeting that the bureau indicated it would explore the possibility of having ambulances take patients to private hospitals if the patients were sent from a private doctor's clinic and a doctor could provide proof that a private hospital bed was available. Cardiologist Dr Bernard Wong Bun-lap said his patients sometimes encountered the ambulance problem. 'It would be good if patients could be sent to private hospitals directly where doctors who know them can provide prompt treatment,' he said. Medical sector legislator Dr Leung Ka-lau, who attended the meeting with Lai, received a complaint last week about a patient denied transport to the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital. 'The patient's doctor had already booked a bed at the sanatorium, but the patient was unwillingly sent to Queen Mary Hospital.' A spokesman for the Security Bureau said last night the aim of the ambulance service was to take patients to the nearest location for emergency medical services, but if patients had the appropriate document issued by a private hospital, they could be taken to that hospital.