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Tawau 24-hr ambulance service stopped despite demand
Published on: Tuesday, October 29, 2019
By: Saila Saidie
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Tawau 24-hr ambulance service stopped despite demand
Lo (left) and a MRCS member giving treatment to a baby in the ambulance.
Kota Kinabalu: Malaysia Red Crescent Society (MRCS) Tuaran District’s 24-hour ambulance service which was established on Mar 1, 2017 received 469 cases in 2018, a 45.65 per cent increase compared to similar period in 2017.In 2017, it received 322 cases that are divided into two categories – emergency (220) and non-emergency (102) while in 2018 the number increased to 332 and 135, respectively.

The emergency category covers emergency calls, accidents, medical, expectant mothers and natural disasters such as fire, landslide and flood. Standby duty is categorised under non-emergency. Former Manager of MRCS Tuaran District’s 24 Ambulance Service, Kevin Lo, said they received many calls from the public for assistance and have transferred many patients from home to hospital across the state, including from Labuan. “We have never ignored any calls. Although, we are based in Tuaran we do received calls from people in Tawau, Telipok, Tamparuli, Tenghilan, Sandakan, Tenom and even Labuan.

The ambulance team have clocked 563.7km, almost an 8-hour drive, just to extract patients in Tawau and that its services have been extended to Labuan.

Lo said they could not provide the data for this year because the service was stopped on Mar 1 due to lack of funds.

MRCS Tuaran started its ambulance service in 1994 with only one ambulance, where it was only available during office hours between 8am and 5pm, from Monday to Friday.

Lo also provided data for cases received since 2013 until 2016 during normal hour ambulance service. The cases included transporting mothers who were about to give birth and accident victims.

In 2013, there were only 95 non-emergency cases with 12 accidents and five giving birth cases. In 2014, there were 187 non-emergency cases with four accidents and two labour cases. The number slightly increased to 196 cases in 2015 with 192 non-emergency cases, two accidents and two labour cases. In 2016, a year before the 24-hour ambulance service was established, the cases rose 20.41 per cent with 236 cases recorded. There were two accident cases, zero labour case but had eight emergency cases. There were no emergency cases received in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The data showed that MRCS Tuaran District handled more cases after the establishment of its 24-hour ambulance service as there were 318.75 per cent increment of cases received from 2013 until 2018.

Lo said MRCS Tuaran now only runs office hour ambulance service just like when it first started in 1994.

He said MRCS’ ambulance service is free to those who could not afford it and that its charges is much lower compared to private hospital ambulance services.

“I have appealed to the National Headquarters several times to maintain the ambulance service but I was told that they could no longer provide the grant due to shortage of funds,” he said.

He said he understood the problem because one of the biggest challenge for humanitarian work is insufficient funds.

“We are not a profit-making company. We work for free without expecting anything in return,” he said. Nevertheless, he still hopes that the 24-hour ambulance service will be continued. Lo, who has a diploma in paramedics, said all the employees have medical background, which is essential, as they need to handle patients.

“You cannot save people’s lives if you don’t know anything about first aid. We had three teams for the night and morning shifts and also during break where they also have to be on standby in case of an emergency,” he said.

“I was the manager for MRCS Tuaran 24-hour ambulance service and we have one staff as Emergency Service Operation (ESO) and nine staff as Ambulance Medical Assistants (AMA),” he said while adding that they all worked as a team. According to him, MRCS Tuaran District’s first ambulance was donated by MRSC National Headquarter in 1998 while the second one was donated by Kuwait Finance House in 2010.

“We spent RM8,000 just to overhaul the engine of the old ambulance using the meagre funds that we received but the body needs to be painted because it is really rusty. It has no air-conditioner and the warning lights are no longer working. We have to use the old one if the other ambulance was used to transfer patient. The new ambulance was also used to transport the victims of the earthquake in Ranau in 2015, and also wounded people during the armed-conflict in Lahad Datu and other natural disaster incidents,” he said.

Meanwhile he disclosed that the second ambulance has experienced break down numerous times already – which is normal as it has been in use for almost 10 years.

He said many people expressed disappointment and frustration over the service of the 24-hour ambulance service that are no longer available.

“People still call us and asked why the service has been stopped but we cannot do anything about it,” he said.

Currently, the MRCS Tuaran ambulance service only has two employees that are being maintained on a monthly allowance, 27-year-old Albert Joseph and Mohd Raiman Salleh, 34.

Although Lo is no longer working as manager for MRCS Tuaran ambulance service, he is still works there as a volunteer to transfer patients and keeps in touch with them every day.

 “I work for free and I don’t mind whether I am not given a salary. I do it for humanity,” he said.

Lo, who said his life was touched by the Red Crescent, said he always practice the Red Crescent’s seven fundamental principles which are humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality in his daily life.

“The seven fundamental principles mean so much to me but what I like the most is humanity,” he said.

He said he left his high-paying job at a well-known car company just so that he could focus on MRCS.

He even took a diploma in paramedics in college for two years so that he could become a qualified paramedic. “I joined MRSC when I was just 10 years old. I love doing humanitarian work and I will always continue to serve the community. I know not everyone will do what I do because you don’t get paid doing charity work. Asked if he ever regretted his decision to leave his high-salary job to join MRCS, he replied: “Not even once because helping people in need brings satisfaction and I am still looking for opportunity to provide assistance to the society.”

His saddest memory was when they could not reach the victims in a rural area in Tuaran because the weather had turned the gravel road into a river of mud. “Our ambulance could not go any further and there was nothing we could do at that time but to return to our office. At that time, we really wished that we have our own four-wheel drive (4WD) as our ambulance to provide service to the people in rural areas,” he said.

It was noted that some ambulance services in West Malaysia have started using 4WD vehicles.

But Lo said a 4WD ambulance is really expensive with prices starting between RM200,000 and RM250,000.

As Honorary Secretary for MRCS’ Tuaran, he expressed hope that they could upgrade the ambulances with GPS and Wi-Fi instead of having to rely on normal mobile phones to communicate with the callers.

“It would be good to have those technologies in our ambulances. These innovations are crucial for us but right now we cannot really do anything about it because we don’t even have enough money to sustain the monthly operations,” he said.

While the organisation endeavour is noble, it is not spared from prank calls.

“We received fake calls a few times. We thought it was real. Someone would call us to inform us of an accident and got victim who was waiting for us. However, there is no one and no accidents when we arrived at the scene,” he said.

Even with the grant discontinued, Lo said they try to revive MRCS Tuaran 24-hour ambulance service. “I will try to continue the 24-hour ambulance service operation because the society needs us. I will never give up hope,” he said adamantly.

Those who are keen to donate could reach the organisation at 088-788880 or e-mail [email protected]. “People can help by using our service. MRCS’ Tuaran provides ambulance service with well-trained paramedics to anyone including corporate agencies at a reasonable charge,” he said. “They could contact us if they have an event like sport. We can provide stand-by duty. Feel free to let us know,” he said. “We do provide non-emergency service such as ferrying paralysed patients to the hospital for medical or routine check ups with low charges at RM50 to RM100 depending on the location and routes. Our area of service covers Tuaran and Kota Kinabalu while for emergency case like road accidents, fire or other natural disaster, it is free-of-charge,” he said.

To raise money, MRSC Tuaran provide Basic First Aid and CPR courses for corporate agencies or private firms.

“Workers should to know how to perform first aid and CPR in case of emergency at their workplace. We welcome any companies or agencies that need our service,” he said.



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