x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

'Life-saving' upgrade for ambulances

Patients forced to rely on a ramshackle rural ambulance system are now benefiting from a dedicated service that managers say will save lives.

Dave Cuizon, right, and Mohammed Alameri, paramedics at Tawam Hospital, attend to a patient, Ali Shamsi, in one of the hospital's new ambulances.
Dave Cuizon, right, and Mohammed Alameri, paramedics at Tawam Hospital, attend to a patient, Ali Shamsi, in one of the hospital's new ambulances.

Patients forced to rely on a ramshackle rural ambulance system are now benefiting from a dedicated service that managers say will save lives. Previously, home-care patients and those transferred between hospitals in Al Ain were driven in vehicles equipped with basic first aid kits and manned by staff pulled off hospital wards. Now, Tawam Hospital has introduced a fleet of specialist ambulances manned by full-time medical staff trained to deal with emergencies and patients in critical conditions.

In the UAE, ambulances attending emergencies, such as car crashes, are operated by the police, while hospitals use their own systems to transport non-emergency and home-care patients. Tawam's new service was created following concerns that the previous system was putting lives at risk. "We are saving lives," said Steven Matarelli, the chief clinical officer at Tawam Hospital. "Say if we are picking up a home-care patient, between their house and here the things that can happen in that distance are tremendous. The treatment they can receive in the ambulance can be life-saving."

Gordon Allan, a nurse manager who helped set up the programme, added: "Previously, for our intensive-care transfers we would be pulling equipment and staff out of the hospital. Now the ambulances have their own staff who are trained in a specific way." The vehicles have been designed by the hospitals and produced locally, he said. The ambulance teams have also been given special training unique to the UAE. The critical-care nurses, who all have emergency nursing or intensive-care backgrounds, are able to administer medications usually given by doctors. The ambulances also cut the time it takes to transport patients by up to half, managers said.

If a patient is critically ill, a paramedic will often travel with the designated nurse. However, new technology, to be installed next year, will pass the patient's readings from the ambulance to staff at the hospital in real-time. This will allow a doctor to direct the nurse, if necessary, without leaving the ward. "The physician can stay in the hospital treating other patients but will be available to assist if needed," said Mr Matarelli. "The system will be able to take from the field all the readings and the staff in the emergency room can prepare for the patient's arrival and advise the nurse in the ambulance. It will be very beneficial to everyone."

The unit is also to receive one of 60 new ambulances bought by SEHA, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company that manages the emirate's government hospitals and clinics. The vehicles cost Dh750,000 each and have been shipped from the US. These are larger and will be able to transport critically ill patients, including babies, more easily. The new ambulances also carry generators that can power critical equipment such as defibrillators. Suction systems, transfusion equipment, hydraulic stretchers, nebulisers, ventilators and oxygen equipment are available on board and all surfaces have a special coating that releases silver ions to kill germs.

Tawam Hospital serves almost 1,000 home-care patients based across the eastern region. Until the new unit became fully operational last month, there were very limited options available if patients required transportation. "We created this unit for a number of reasons. One was to supplement a deficiency that we had as an organisation," said Mr Allan. "Another was to assist the police in the sense that they are the public emergency service and we have a lot of internal things that we want to do that they do not need to necessarily get involved with.

"It all helps build an efficient ambulance service which works for the community." Mr Allan said the service could be a model for future initiatives across the country. "I would like to think we are one of, if not the, leading provider of such services, and other institutions would be able to model something similar for their needs on what we are doing." The ambulances will also attend public events, such as sport tournaments, which will help free police-operated vehicles for other duties.

@Email:munderwood@thenational.ae