In 3 months, 430 more CATS ambulances put on Covid duty, cuts response time.

The size of the ambulance fleet in Delhi, deployed on free-of-charge Covid-19 service, has been increased threefold in the past three months, with the result that the response time has now reduced to one-third of what it used to be earlier, said a senior government official on Friday, citing the findings of a report from the health department.

The report was submitted to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s office this week, after he sought to assess the response of ambulances to Covid-19 distress calls.

According to the report, as on May 15, there were 164 centralised emergency trauma services (CATS) ambulances on Covid duty, with a response time of 55 minutes per distress call. The fleet size has now been increased to 594, thereby cutting their response time to 18 minutes per call, the senior official said, on condition of anonymity.

To increase the fleet size within such a short span, the government signed contracts with numerous small and medium scale service providers and hired ambulances not only from those within Delhi but also from neighbouring states such as Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

“Around May 15, ambulances collectively used to attend to around 750 Covid related distress calls every day. The support centres were forced to refuse services to 222 distress callers a day on average, thus compelling people to rely on private ambulances that charge money. The response time then was 55 minutes per distress call,” the senior official elaborated.

The official further said, “Currently, the response time of CATS ambulances has reduced to 18 minutes after the fleet size was increased to 594. Collectively, these ambulances attended 944 calls a day, on average, between August 5 and 15. No caller has been refused service since July 31 and the staff get adequate breaks between trips.”

A Delhi government spokesperson said, “In Delhi, the Covid-19 situation was tough in June as the number of cases and deaths was rising. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal took a serious note of the situation and immediately started discussions with top medical experts in the country to formulate a plan to combat the pandemic. After several rounds of discussion, the chief minister directed officials to improve the response time of CATS ambulances as soon as possible. He then started monitoring the response time of ambulances himself.”

Delhi witnessed its peak Covid-19 caseload in June, recording more than 3,500 cases a day at one point, but the numbers have now dropped to around 1,100 fresh cases a day. During the peak period, there were rampant complaints of call drops and people not being able to get through to CATS helpline because of high volume of calls. Such issues have been resolved after the government increased the number of lines to the support centre from 20, as on June 1, to 30 by July 31, a second senior official said.

The government ambulances ferry Covid patients between hospitals and also from their residences to hospitals and quarantine centres. Other than the 594 on Covid duty, the CATS also has around 200 ambulances reserved for non-Covid emergencies. And then there are private hospitals and service providers with their own fleet of ambulances – the number of which is pegged at 800 by the government’s health department.

T Jacob John, former head of clinical virology at Christian Medical College in Vellore, said: “This is a good achievement by the government. Reduced response time for ambulances can be a life saver in cases where the patient develops respiratory issues or cardiac issues, which are very common among those in the higher age groups and those with co-morbidities.”

Of the current fleet on Covid service, only 164 ambulances that were there with the CATS as on May 15 belong to the administration, the others have been hired on a temporary basis, said another senior official in the health department who did not wish to be identified.

Under Covid protocol, the ambulances have to go through a fumigation process on the completion of each trip. Each ambulance has a driver and a paramedic staff. They operate on 12 hour shifts, dressed in full PPE kit throughout their shift.


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