Are ambulance drivers trained to drive and handle an ambulance at high speeds?
BY DR JEYARAJAH SIVALINGAM
WE ARE familiar with the box van with lights flashing, and sirens wailing tearing down the roads. Always greeted with a tinge of our flight or fright response.
We do, after all, want the best for the patient being ferried. The objective is to be transported safely and with urgency to definitive care.
But wait. Which part is not apt here?
Is it the lights flashing? Sirens wailing? That seems to check the box. It is an emergency.
The lights and sirens help transfer a message of urgency to the road users. Who, in turn activate their civic consciousness and give way.
Or is it speeding recklessly? Are ambulance drivers trained to drive and handle an ambulance at high speeds?
In looking into the training of ambulance drivers, there is a circular issued by the Ministry of Health (MoH) dated May 15, 2012, on the training of ambulance drivers.
This includes a three-day first responder course including ergonomics of response, service ethics and policies, basic life support and basic trauma management. The drivers must undergo a two-day safety driving module that focuses on injury prevention and defensive driving techniques.
Obey traffic rules
The two-day safety driving module has no training on handling vehicles at high speed.
Then you have drivers beating red lights. This is extremely reckless and irresponsible and can only be achieved by complete cooperation and understanding of all vehicles in that play. In usual circumstances, it ends in disaster.
According to the then Health Ministry Secretary-General Datuk Seri Dr Hasan Abdul Rahman, ambulances were not allowed to beat traffic lights even during an emergency. They still have to obey traffic rules.
The sirens are only an indication that they should be given priority of passage. “The drivers should be told that even if they have the lights and the beacon switched on; they still have to obey
traffic rules,” Dr Hasan, as quoted by The Star.
I then wondered about the number of accidents involving ambulances, given that the drivers are not trained in speed racing and the vehicles themselves are not designed for racing.
An astonishing study by a group from Health Systems Research (IHSR), MoH published in Med J Malaysia in August 2017 reveals an average of 129 accidents per year. This is a catastrophic number.
In an article titled “legal perspective of ambulance crashes” by Prof Shad Saleem Faruki, appearing in The Star dated Aug 8, 2011 explains that ambulance drivers are not above the law in their call of duty and are treated accordingly if negligent.
However, in addition to the driver, the employer who would likely be the vehicle owner, would also be liable. This is because in negligence, the law also places responsibility on the employer. This is termed “vicarious liability”.
This includes the Government of Malaysia, State Governments, private hospitals and private responders.
Having been on many trips myself transporting patients and on a reversal of roles when I had to accompany a relative, there is a vast difference between a driver who responds with responsibility and urgency and one who is reckless. It is always better for the patient to be transferred responsibly in any given medical emergency.
And on that note, I wonder if KL City Hall (DBKL) outriders who usually travel at high speeds with sirens wailing are sufficiently trained as their police counterparts? Or should they be in this game at all?
Dr Jeyarajah Sivalingam is a Consultant Physician at MAC Clinics