On June 13, 1997, 59 people were killed when a fire broke out in Delhi’s Uphaar theatre. The toll could have been less if the city had an effective service to handle trauma victims. Sadly, even 10 years on, the city is woefully short of such quick reaction medical teams. The figures say it all: in 1997, Delhi had 30 Centralised Accident Trauma Services (CATS) ambulances. Today, it has 35 such ambulances. In the intervening period, while only five ambulances have been added to the fleet, the population has grown from 84 lakh to 1.4 crore, the number of vehicles has doubled and multiple satellite towns have come up around it. CATS does not even publicise its services because it doesn’t have enough ambulances and personnel to man them, thanks to administrative bottlenecks and implementation delays. And, the Delhi government has only one specialised trauma care centre and the second one at the All-India Institute of Medical Services is yet to become fully functional. If this is the condition in the Capital, one shudders to think of what the situation is in the smaller metros and towns. As for the rural areas, not even rudimentary health services, leave alone trauma facilities, exist.
Most developed countries have dedicated services to cater to emergencies like the US’s ‘911’. Building on this, the services are trying to keep pace with the times we live in: while UK is thinking of equipping emergency vehicles with chemical detectors, we are struggling to equip ambulances with common life-saving devices like ventilators. However, some states have taken positive steps. While Maharashtra will start a 911-type service, the Andhra Pradesh government has joined hands with corporate hospitals to launch emergency services. However, these new projects will also falter in the long-run, if they do not have financial and technical support.
If we are serious about saving lives, the government needs to set up a national lead agency to co-ordinate trauma centres, put in place a mechanism for accreditation of such institutions and professionals and educate citizens in trauma life-support skills. All over the world, the air ambulance industry has proved to be a great innovation. For a huge country like ours, they could spell the difference between life and death. For this, the government needs to remove restrictions and frame proper guidelines. Needless to add, all this needs funds and it is here public-private partnership can play a significant role.