Monday, April 20, 2020

Calls for air ambulances soar, but tough norms make medical evacuation harder

Mumbai: A Kolkata family that flew their 10-year-old son to Mumbai for an emergency brain tumour surgery, a middle-aged man from Raipur who flew home after a bypass surgery in Mumbai, a seriously ill elderly woman with liver and kidney ailments who had exhausted her treatment options at a Hyderabad hospital and so left for her home in Indore. These are some of the patients who took the nearly two dozen air ambulance flights operated over the past four weeks as domestic flights and trains were suspended across India due to the lockdown.

Air ambulance operators say despite calls for medical evacuation soaring during the lockdown, the tougher norms have badly hit families who need to fly down patients to different cities.

On March 23, the ministry of civil aviation banned all airline flights, but medical evacuation flights by charter operators were permitted. On April 15, the ministry issued a clarification stating medical evacuation flights “should not be permitted without the explicit permission of the government”.

“During normal times, all that was needed to operate a medical flight was a hospital discharge summary and clearance from the aviation regulator. Now, we need permission from collectors or district magistrates of both arrival and departure cities, letters from the doctor and hospital giving patient’s details, an NOC from the state health department, which is needed for both the origin and destination states, and then medical certificates for the patient’s attendants saying they are not Covid-positive and neither have come in contact with any Covid-positive person in the last 15 days,” said Rahul Muchhal, founder, Accretion Aviation, an aggregator. He said only a few companies offer air ambulance services now due to these restrictions.

Mucchal says they do bed-to-bed transfers. An ICCU ambulance along with a doctor and a technician picks up the patient from the hospital and takes him/her right up to the aircraft in the apron and the process is repeated after landing. “So if a patient has to be taken to Bhilai, then you land at Raipur airport and for the nearly 30-km journey on ground, you need clearances to show the cops. If the journey is from one district to another, then written permission from each magistrate is needed,” he added.

He says almost every single patient’s family called to thank them for the service, with some even breaking down over the phone because they had exhausted most of the options to transport the patient. “That is something that never happens in a customer service business where customers are always complaining about something or the other,” he said. His company has operated about 10 flights during the lockdown, including eight departures, arrivals from/into Mumbai.
20/04/20 Manju V/Times of India
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