Private ambulances are no longer allowed to pick up victims at crash sites in Phnom Penh, according to a recent directive approved by the Ministry of Health.
According to a copy of the directive obtained Wednesday, the new rules, which were approved Nov 14, allow private ambulances to transport patients from clinics to public hospitals or homes. However, the directive states that private ambulances are not permitted to pick up patients from the scene of an emergency, be it a heart attack or a car accident.
The rules also require that private ambulances be staffed with a trained nurse and that they only use sirens while transporting patients with urgent injuries.
Clinics that don’t obey the rules can be shut down and fined.
The ban also means only government ambulances will transport emergency patients—to the hospital of their choice without charge, said Health Ministry Secretary of State Heng Taikry. An ambulance can be called by dailing the 119 telephone number, he said Wednesday.
The new rule was put in place because private ambulances were risking people’s lives for commissions, Heng Taikry said.
“The ambulances tried to get the patients as if they are pigs, and the patient can’t do anything,” Heng Taikry said, noting that some clinics pay people who call private ambulances to crash sites.
“Lives are put in danger because… private ambulance just spends time fighting over who gets the patients,” he said. “Those private ambulances are anarchic. I won’t allow them to continue this anymore.”
The government has 30 ambulances stationed throughout Phnom Penh and others in the provinces, said Heng Taikry, though he said he was unsure of the exact number.
Police will enforce this new rule by fining offenders between $1,250 and $2,500, Heng Taikry said.
“We will crack down on private clinics that don’t obey the law,” Phnom Penh municipal police chief Touch Naruth said, adding that he needs the Health Ministry to cover its end of the agreement in order to save lives.
“I also need help from the ministry to send the ambulances on time, since after an accident, a few minutes are crucial in saving people’s lives,” he said.
Muong Tito, manager of Panhasak Poly Clinic in Phnom Penh, said the new directive is unfair.
“There are many ways to strengthen the health system that don’t require banning private ambulances,” he said.
“If they think our material is not standardized, then just tell us what the ministry requires. If our staff are not professional, just hold the program to educate our staff or tell us where we can have our staff trained. We have money to support everything they require,” he said.
Other clinic officials said they approve of the law: “Of course we agree; it is the law,” said Nhem Setha, assistant to the managing director of Clough Thuraisingham International, which owns the Clinic Sokhapheap Thmey.
Leng Heang, a manager at Bayon Polyclinic, also agreed.
“When Calmette [Hospital] has responsibility, it means ambulances will bring patients to clinics that can treat them,” she said, noting that a Calmette ambulance is stationed outside her clinic. “Before they would bring them to small [clinics], then they would have to bring them here later, after the disease gets more serious,” she said.