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Police or paramedics?

Police in New Delhi are to be trained and given basic medical equipment in order to fulfill the role of paramedics. This is the latest in a long line of attempts to address the problems of India’s inadequate emergency medical service.

It is already a common occurrence to find police in New Delhi ferrying people injured in accidents or as the result of a crime to hospital. With only 155 dedicated medical vehicles in a metropolitan area whose population exceeds 2.1 crore (21 million), this is simply a necessity.

A fleet of derelict ambulances in India Source:

Three out of every five government-run ambulances in India will not be in working condition, according to emergency-live. . Many ambulance drivers say they are simply not being given the necessary fuel to do their job. Other causes are far more condemning, with many ambulances being ill equipped to handle patients, either lacking vital medical equipment or simply being unsanitary.

The lack of ambulances has resulted in global criticism, with reports of both critically ill, as well as the deceased, being carried to and from hospitals. This uncomfortably recurrent process of family members removing the dead from hospitals on foot or, in some examples, on bicycles and rickshaws has resulted in the state of Odisha providing a mortuary vehicle for the poor. Odisha was the scene of a widely publicised incident last year, where a man (in the company of his 12-year-old daughter) was forced to carry his wife’s body back to their village 10 km away after the state were unable to provide an ambulance.

In the last decade there has been an increase in private sector emergency medical care, though, as is often the case, this has left the poor still in a situation where ambulances are unavailable. This has not entirely been ignored though, with a number of non-profit companies such as US based Acumen allocating funds to private ambulance providers Ziqitza Healthcare Ltd (ZHL) to allow for a sliding scale payment scheme to lower costs for the poor.

Officers will be provided with cervical collars and frames to support the neck during delivery to the hospital. This is essential as a common occurrence has been that an officer with no medical background will move a person with potential spine or neck injuries and cause further damage. Police will also be provided in the medical kit with equipment to stop bleeding until further treatment is provided, as well as basic medical training to assist in the role.

The move to allow police to act as paramedics however does not seem a solution to the problem, more an act of desperation. While funding for emergency services remains critically low this is simply a necessity. If police are already taking on the role, this is a way of ensuring they are at least carrying out the role in an effective manner, as opposed to addressing why it is the police fill the position of paramedics. In order to address this issue the funds must be put in place.

In the meantime, police are taken away from their own duties, being called to accidents to transport the injured to hospital. With fewer officers fulfilling their actual duties, crime rates may show a rise.

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