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Medical emergency teams thwarted by dense Bangkok traffic

Staff from Poh Teck Tung Foundation, one of the medical units overseen by the Narenthorn Center, waits for emergency calls in front of the hospital.
(Norkaew Senapan/IRIN)

The death rate of injured patients cared for and transported by Thailand’s hodge-podge of volunteer and hospital-owned emergency medical services and ambulances is high, particularly in Bangkok, according to safety authorities.

Anucha Mokkhavesa, director-general of the Interior Ministry’s Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department, told local newspapers the department’s Road Safety Centre (RSC) statistics showed 101,752 accidents occurred nationwide in 2007, killing 12,492 people and injuring 79,029 others.

Compared to 2006 figures, the number of accidents declined by 8.07 percent, but the number of deaths decreased by only 1.58 percent.

“It might look like the number has been reduced, but the change is too small and the number of deaths is still considered too high,” Surachet Satitniramai, director of the Narenthorn Centre, Thailand's national medical emergency services institute, told IRIN.

“To put this into perspective, Thailand’s emergency medical services system still looks like a first grade student compared to most developed countries such as Japan or in Western Europe,” said Surachet.

Narenthorn Centre is a division within the Health Ministry permanent secretary’s office, established in 2001 to enhance countrywide Emergency Medical Services (EMS) development.

Photo: Norkaew Senapan/IRIN
An injured patient is brought to hospital by emergency medical services from an accident scene

“Lack of effective response”

“The most obstructive problem we are facing here is not about the budget, equipment or staff, it’s the lack of effective response to emergencies, Surachet said. “A very easy way to understand the problem is to look at Bangkok. It is the city which has the most skilled staff, best-equipped medical units… yet the efficiency of its emergency medical services is still lower than many other cities in Thailand.”

According to RSC statistics, Bangkok Province has the highest rate of accidents and the highest death toll - 46,647 accidents and 652 deaths in 2007 - of any province in the country.

A study (not available on the internet) by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) indicates that the main cause of accidents stems from highway code violations, with most accidents at busy intersections.

“I think we have done a pretty good job, but when an accident happens, the traffic gets even worse,” Somprasong Yenthum, superintendent of the Information Technology Centre Metropolitan Police Bureau who oversees the emergency call centre in Bangkok, told IRIN.

“It makes it even harder for the emergency medical units to reach the scene. But we try to solve the problem by sending police officers to clear the road,” he said, adding that he also uses the call centre and the city FM radio emergency channel to contact emergency medical units so they can respond as quickly as possible.

Somprasong told IRIN the city’s emergency radio channel was really a great asset for triggering emergency medical response to serious accidents and for warning drivers to avoid the heavy traffic. “The volunteer emergency medicine units get to the scenes of accidents faster because of the city radio, but we don’t know just how effective they are in treatment and pre-hospital care,” Somprasong said. “We have yet to look systematically at their success rate in treating and saving lives.”

Photo: Norkaew Senapan/IRIN
An ambulance (centre left) stuck in traffic on an emergency call during rush hour

Volunteers “still necessary”

Sompong Sawadisuk, president of Friends on the Road Club, one of a number of volunteer taxi networks cooperating with the city emergency response radio, told IRIN all of its members had first-aid training and were able to provide some assistance to the injured.

“We have trained… at Chulalongkorn University Hospital and often arrive at the scene of an accident before emergency medical units do, said Sompong. “Nowadays a lot more emergency medical service ambulances are operating than before, but it’s never enough. Volunteers are still necessary around here.”

A great number of hospitals in Bangkok now have emergency medical units including ambulances, but being able to get to the scene of an accident quickly given Bangkok traffic is still a problem, Narenthorn’s Surachet told IRIN.

“It’s not only about how fast the team can get to the scene, but the long delays stuck in traffic while bringing the injured patient to the hospital. Many die before or right after they reach the hospital because of these delays.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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