Demand for private ambulances surges

The surge in Covid cases, especially in the Klang Valley, has pushed the demand for private ambulances higher

by AFIQ AZIZ / pic credit: redcrescent.org.my

DEMAND for private ambulance services has almost doubled since June this year as they supplement the government’s health services to cope with the high number of Covid-19 cases.

The surge in Covid cases, especially in the Klang Valley, has pushed the health infrastructure to the limit with every government hospital almost full and cases overflowing to private hospitals.

The Malaysian Red Crescent reported that the demand for its private ambulance service has surged by 80% since June, compared to the previous months, in line with the recent spike in cases in Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Selangor.

“On average, we received 600 requests for ambulances in a month this year,” said Red Crescent secretary general Hakim Hamzah.

“Until present, it is still difficult for the public to have quick access to public ambulances. So those who could afford it would opt for private facilities.”

The Red Crescent now has 19 ambulances in service in the Klang Valley with over 40 staff and volunteers, covering Selangor and KL.

Covid-19 is now the worst pandemic in history, with 1.86 million people infected in Malaysia and more than 18,000 deaths so far.

Worldwide, some 4.54 million people have succumbed to the virus and more than 218 million cases were reported to date.

In Malaysia, the public health facilities, especially in the Klang Valley, surpassed the maximum capacity when the daily cases quadrupled from only 5,000 in June to around 23,000 in August. The case has since dropped slightly to 17,352 yesterday as the number of people vaccinated increases.

The pandemic has also pushed many quarters to survival mode, as most economic sectors were hit by Movement Control Order enforcements since last year.

A former medical assistant, Muhammad Muhsin Zaidi, now runs four ambulances and is hard-pressed to keep up with the demand for services.

His medical technicians who man the ambulances are re-hires from his former tyre business, which has since closed down, just in time as the pandemic struck.

“I converted all my staff at the tyre shop to be paramedics last year and provide health services from house to house. In March, I bought two ambulances for us to expend the business,” said the private ambulance service operator.

“I have spent almost half a million of ringgit. It is expensive because these are type A ambulances which are equipped with life support equipment like a ventilator,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

The demand is still good, said Muhammad Muhsin, who caters to both Covid-19 and non Covid-19 patients in the Klang Valley area.

“At first, we only had two ambulances before we realised it was not enough when the cases surged in May, June and July. We can only cater to slightly more than 20 trips a day. That was when I decided to add two more ambulances.

“But now as we are aware, the trend of cases in Klang Valley has been dropping, so we run less than 10 trips a day.

“However, I believe demand for ambulances will always be there,” he said.

Seers Bhd founder and chairman Dr Ken KH Foo said the organisation is running a total of four ambulances now.

The water-related appliances company, which now offers health services, has been transporting vulnerable groups since the Covid-19 outbreak started.

Free services were given to disables and those who really cannot afford to pay for ambulance transportation.

With a total of 14 qualified doctors, medical assistants and nurses, Dr Ken said the team is still receiving high demand for ambulances in the Klang Valley.

He said daily calls for Seers ambulances are now four times than what it was last year.

“According to our helpline, every 30 seconds there is an incoming call for an ambulance asking for ambulance oxygen.

One day, we have more than 450 cases. “It was triple, or even quadruple compared to last season. Receiving calls late at night or early in the morning has become the new norm,” he told TMR.

Almost half of the calls are Covid-19 cases, said Dr Ken.

Following the increase of Covid-19 cases in June, the Health Ministry decided to procure an additional 500 ambulances for the use of government hospitals and clinics nationwide.

The ambulances are used to transport patients with severe symptoms and comorbidities.

Categories 1 and 2 of Covid-19 patients are only required to do self-monitoring with home assessment tools via the MySejahtera app, while Category 3 patients with mild symptoms can be ferried using an ambulance without an oxygen tank.

Typically, an ambulance company charges around RM200 per trip, depending on time, distance and medical equipment.

Besides ambulances, large buses were also used to ferry high-risk patients with very mild Covid symptoms to the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre in Serdang, Selangor.

As of now, there is only a finite number of ambulances including those operated by the government, civil society organisations, Red Crescent and other private operators.

The government also received contributions from private corporations such as Sime Darby Foundation to use 20 Hyundai Starex to transport patients, while some buses were also equipped with oxygen for patient’s use.