Govt Says National Emergency Medical Services will Reduce Exorbitant Ambulance Fees


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Government has revealed plans to establish a call and dispatch centre at each of the 11 health regions and an ambulance at every health sub-district once the national Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system has been rolled out.

This was revealed Tuesday by Dr John Baptist Nambohe, the Commissioner Emergency Medical Services, in the Ministry of Health during a news conference in Kampala.

This is part of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) policy which currently awaits Cabinet review and approval. The move seeks to ensure there is a framework and sustainable structures to guide implementation of the national EMS. 

As such, the Ministry of Health has instituted a department of Emergency Medical Services that has over seen the development of a National Emergency Medical System framework among other developments.

“We shall have a regionally coordinated system. At the national level, we shall only be dealing with supervision and monitoring,” Nambohe told reporters on Tuesday.

“We shall establish emergency call and dispatch centres at each of the regional referral hospitals in the country. In the case of Kampala, Naguru hospital will be the centre for the metropolitan area”.

At the district level, each of the health sub-district will have an ambulance station. A health sub-district is equivalent to a constituency, serving an average population of 100,000 people.

He explained that the purpose of the Emergency Medical Services is to lower the cost of ambulance services which is currently dominated by private entities that charge exorbitant fees.

The cost of ambulance services in the event of emergency evacuation remains high and unaffordable for majority Ugandans. It costs on average Shs 150,000 for an ambulance to move a patient from one point to another within Kampala, while the cost could go as high as Shs 3m if a patient was being transported from Gulu to Kampala.

Experts says this is attributed to the cost of procuring these vehicles.

A standard ambulance costs USD 22,000 (Shs 83m) while the Advanced Ambulances (with ICU facilities) cost as much as Shs 500m.

The Ministry of Health says emergencies contribute greatly to the top ten causes of mortality in Uganda.

The State Minister for Primary Health Care, Joyce Moricu Kaducu revealed that while the greater Kampala area hosts 63% of the private ambulances, they are not optimally utilized by the general population.

“We are confident that when cabinet reviews and signs the policy for implementation, it will guide and streamline the establishment of structures that will improve emergency response and service delivery from the scene of emergency, during transportation and at health facility level,” she said.

The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) policy seeks to; establish ambulance vehicle norms and standards; training of emergency care professionals; establish a regionally coordinated EMS System and establish a rehabilitation and make accident and emergency units functional at health facilities.

The delivery of emergency services within Uganda’s medical system remains inadequate with critical shortage in the facilities required as well as competences in human resources.

On Tuesday, the Minister revealed that there are 421 ambulances across the entire country. Of these, 181 ambulances belong to government, 124 to private not-for-profit organizations and 116 to private entities.

She said that the government ambulances are classified as Type B which contain basic life support equipment. The whole country has only one ambulance (public) that is classified as Type C which has ICU facilities. This is attached to the Uganda Heart Institute at Mulago Hospital.

“Our vision is to also acquire choppers which are air ambulances that can transport patients from say Kasese to Kampala. It shouldn’t only be the road ambulance system”.

Dr Kaducu however underscored prevention, adding that government is overwhelmed by the numerous incidents of accidents.

Dr Bangirana who heads the Emergency Unit at Mulago hospital, Dr Bangirana Alexander said the Unit alone receives between 1,600 to 1,800 patients each month. Of these, 1,000 to 1,300 are admitted. Road traffic incidents account for 30 to 49% of the total patients.

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