RAWALPINDI: Private ambulances are charging huge fares from members of bereaved families to transport bodies from hospitals as the number of official vehicles available especially at three allied hospitals are insufficient to meet the demand.
According to a survey, a large number of private ambulances of various sizes can be witnessed lined-up in front of emergency wards of the Holy Family Hospital, Benazir Bhutto Hospital and the District Headquarters of Rawalpindi.
A private ambulance owner, requesting anonymity, said that they get a list of critical patients every morning from nurses to assess scope of their day-to-day business. Even, he revealed that ambulance drivers hover around the wards and, as soon as a patient dies, approach the relatives to offer their services.
As a business trick, he said that many drivers pretend to be shocked and grieved over the death and even join in weeping with the members of the bereaved family. Muhammad Afzal, another driver of a private ambulance stationed at the Holy Family Hospital, said that normally they charge Rs700 to 1000 to carry bodies in non-air-conditioned ambulances within the city.
In most cases, he said that the payment was requested in advance because after reaching the destination it quite often becomes impossible to ask for fare. The biggest sufferers are people from outside the city who have to pay around Rs 4,000 to 5,000 to transport bodies.
During the survey, it was learnt that lower staff of the hospitals have started running their own ambulance service because they get on the spot business. Ambulance services of the non-governmental organisations and volunteer bodies are not available immediately, or during odd hours.
The Edhi Ambulance service, which charges reasonable prices, is also short of vans and it takes time to seek their service. Every year, a lot of money is allocated for the purchase of ambulances for the Health Department.
However, official ambulances are seldom available, or are only available to the influential. Dependents of the patients have appealed to the government to rectify the situation so as to save them from the private ‘ambulance mafia,’ which allegedly enjoys the patronage of the city hospitals’ authorities.