Two weeks after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered health officials to return an unlicensed ambulance to the ABC radio station, which had been using it to transport corpses for listeners at no cost, the Health Ministry on Monday ordered hospitals to provide the same service.
In a directive signed by Health Minister Mam Bunheng, the ministry instructed the directors of state hospitals, specialized national health centers and provincial health departments to transport home the bodies of patients who die at their facilities—for free.
“In order to reduce the poverty of the people, the ambulances that carry the corpses must no longer charge for the service,” it said.
Ministry spokesman Ly Sovann said the directive was effective immediately.
He said the medical facilities would use both state vehicles and ambulances donated by the Chinese government to facilitate the service, while soliciting feedback via mail, telephone hotlines and the Health Ministry’s Facebook page.
In the past, the government’s ambulance fee has varied based on distance traveled, Mr. Sovann said, declining to be more specific.
This policy may have contributed to the popularity of ABC radio’s free corpse transportation service, which was suspended earlier this month when Phnom Penh health authorities stopped and impounded the station’s unlicensed ambulance.
Following a public dispute between municipal health department director Sok Sokun and station owner Seng Bunveng, the ambulance was returned several days later on orders from Mr. Hun Sen. Mr. Sokun was also dismissed from his position, while Mr. Bunveng declared victory over the government “monkeys” who impounded his ambulance.
Asked whether the Health Ministry’s new policy was prompted by the incident, Mr. Sovann declined to comment.
ABC employee Chhel Sovannara said he welcomed the change.
“We think they should have made this policy earlier,” he said, adding that ABC would continue to transport corpses from accident sites, homes and other locations not covered by the government.