DRIVERS of ambulances and other medical emergency vehicles have come under scrutiny in a recent study by the National Institute for Emergency Medicine (NIEM) aimed at preventing the risk of them being involved in crashes.
The NIEM survey created to raise public awareness and promote safety standards found that emergency vehicles were the ones crashing into other vehicles in 67.8 per cent of accidents.
In 110 such accidents since 2016, there were 318 casualties and 129 of the people injured were medical personnel. Eighty per cent of the collisions took place while patients were being transported to hospital, the survey found.
Ambulance drivers are allowed to exceed the speed limit in accordance with the Institute’s policy of delivering effective aid to critically injured people within eight minutes, the crucial amount of time in ensuring their best chance of survival.
However, the urgency of their responses increases the risk of road accidents.
The NIEM assigned Dr Napatsawan Patcharatanasan to lead a research team studying the risk and the prevalence of traffic accidents.
The survey was conducted in Chon Buri and included 199 selected emergency drivers from a private hospital and three rescue foundations. Most were men with an average age of 36.7 years.
About one third of the drivers said they drank alcohol on average 2.2 times per week, while 48.7 per cent drank 1.6 cups of coffee a day and 35.7 per cent drank 1.2 bottles of energy drinks a day.
Ten per cent of the drivers said they slept less than six hours a day and 43.2 per cent said they didn’t exercise regularly.
Forty-two drivers had been involved in 56 ambulance crashes, of which 67.8 per cent involved the ambulances striking other vehicles. The study listed contributing factors that included human error, the poor state of their vehicles and the conditions where accidents happened.
The drivers who had been involved in accidents said 67.8 per cent of the crashes took place between 8pm and midnight and at speeds between 81 and 100 kilometres per hour.
Recent ambulance crashes prompted the Public Health Ministry to earlier this month announce that a regulation barring ambulances in non-emergency referral cases from exceeding 80kmh would be more strictly enforced.
Besides road accidents, emergency-vehicle personnel also faced other health threats, the study noted.
These threats included exposure to patients’ possibly infected blood, heavy lifting, being hit by sharp objects, physical assault and mental stress. Ambulance personnel, it was estimated, had a 16.2 per cent higher chance of suffering extreme mental stress than other kinds of healthcare providers.
NIEM deputy secretary-general Dr Sanchai Chasombat said that the agency, recognising the importance of preparedness in significantly reducing injury in ambulance crashes, had set safety standards and guidelines for emergency-vehicle personnel.
It decided that vehicles should have all the required equipment and proper seating for staff, plus safety belts for both staff and patients.
Personnel must undergo continuous training in on-board safety and drivers have to be checked regularly for sobriety, physical conditioning and safe driving skills.
The condition of their vehicles also needed to be routinely assessed, Sanchai said.