The Telegraph
Tuesday , January 14 , 2014
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Madan moots air ambulance

The government on Monday urged private hospitals in the city to use the recently-launched chopper service to ferry patients who fail to reach the city from districts and neighbouring states during an emergency because of transportation problems.

At a meeting with representatives of 11 private hospitals, transport minister Madan Mitra appealed to them to book flying hours in advance so that the air ambulance service could be made available to patients.

Apollo Gleneagles, BM Birla Heart Research Centre, Belle Vue, Peerless and Woodlands are among the hospitals that had sent officials to the meeting.

The hospitals have been asked to get back to the government on the proposal within 15 days.

“We requested the hospitals to avail themselves of the chopper service so that the culture of flying in critical patients from distant areas for rendering advanced health care catches up in the state,” Mitra told Metro. “We want to start the service with a hospital booking at least three-four hours a month.”

Nudged by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the government has recently started chopper service to some prominent destinations in the districts, such as Ganga Sagar, Santiniketan, Durgapur, Malda and Balurghat.

The transport department has tied up with Pawan Hans, a public sector company, for running the service. The helicopters take off from the Behala Flying Club.

Sources said Pawan Hans will provide helicopters especially equipped with emergency medical gadgets and drugs to fly critical patients.

At the meeting, Mitra proposed setting up air-ambulance base at two places — Behala Flying Club for hospitals in Alipore and other parts of south Calcutta, and Salt Lake stadium for those off the Bypass.

The government has told the hospitals that each flying hour might cost a patient around Rs 2 lakh. “But there will be subsidy and a patient’s family can opt for the facility by paying Rs 1.25 lakh. That’s the initial offering,” said a transport department official.

“We will conduct a market survey to test the viability of the proposal,” said Rupak Barua, the chief executive officer of BM Birla Heart Research Centre.

“For patients suffering a cardiac arrest, the first two hours are vital. The air ambulance service will be particularly helpful for such critical patients in the districts and cities like Ranchi and Jamshedpur,” he pointed out. According to Barua, the hospitals are looking at corporate patients for the service.

Other hospitals said it was an expensive proposition and wanted an alternative model.

“Air ambulance is very expensive. There is hardly four-five air lifting of critical patients in eastern India. We have proposed a scheduled helicopter service for not so critical patients with discounted fares in the first phase,” said Rupali Basu, the CEO of Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals. “In the next phase we can think of an air ambulance service.”

Apollo would submit a proposal to be allowed to set up a helicopter landing base on its hospital premises.

“If the word goes around that a private hospital is offering services of flying in its patients, the helicopter service is bound to catch up,” said a transport department official.

Transport department officials said fares for most of the routes are heavily subsided. For instance, the one-way fair from Calcutta to Santiniketan is Rs 1,500.