There are 22,108 ambulances in Vellore district, some of which are earmarked exclusively for COVID patients. The town has one major private ambulance firm that operates a fleet of around 10 vehicles, while other ambulances are all owner-driven single vehicles.
The challenge that the ambulance owners/operators are facing now is the shortage of oxygen. Sources said private and 108 ambulances have been refilling their cylinders from units near Green Circle and the old bypass road. “But both units are unable to refill the cylinders, as they themselves are yet to receive their oxygen loads,” said the driver of a 108 ambulance service on condition of anonymity.
To overcome this shortage, the ambulances on COVID duty are not forced to borrow oxygen from the regular fleet as and when necessary, the driver said, adding that senior officials have assured them that the situation would improve from Saturday.
According to a source among the ambulance crew, hospitals that do not have adequate stock of oxygen use the cylinders on ambulances when patients are brought there. In one such case that was reported a week ago, the oxygen stock on board was used to stabilise a patient who was rushed to Vellore Government Medical College Hospital on an ambulance.
Holding up ambulances in this manner results in those in urgent need of medical help being forced to depend on private transport to reach a medical facility. This despite the district administration stating that this should be avoided to prevent the spread of the infection.
Another issue is that many of the crew are on sick leave. Though many have already been vaccinated, there still are a few who are waiting for the government to clear their doubts about the vaccines before getting the shot themselves. “Many, including pilots and emergency medical technicians (EMT), have complained of fever, body pain. We continue because we are part of the essential services, but we are unsure as to when exactly we will operate at full strength,” another driver said.
According to officials from 108 ambulance service, more ambulances from the fleet would be used to transport COVID patients when necessary. The vehicles would then be thoroughly sanitised before it is returned to non-pandemic work.