The Ministry of Health (MOH) has issued a warning that it will take legal action
against private clinics in Phnom Penh if their ambulances continue to ignore regulations
and race to pick up people who have suffered traffic accidents.
Only ambulances from public hospitals have the authority to provide emergency services
for traffic accident victims on Phnom Penh streets, according to Chi Mean Hea, the
MOH's deputy director-general for health.
He says the four emergency ambulance services the public should summon are run by
Calmette, Kossamak, Sihanouk and Phnom Penh Municipal hospitals.
But don't hold your breath. The Post duly phoned all four services. Only Calmette's
119 answered - and on an earlier occasion that number also went unanswered.
Mean Hea's warning is in a letter he wrote on October 18 to Deputy Prime Minister
Sar Kheng, the Minister of Interior, seeking his help to curb the activities of private
ambulances "to ensure safety and strengthen the emergency services for the public."
Private ambulances are only allowed to transport patients from their employing clinic
to a hospital, or from the clinic to their homes, Mean Hea said.
He said the MOH has banned private emergency services from treating road accident
victims since 2003, but some clinics have ignored the regulation.
"We know that some clinics have operated with individual traffic police officers
to get clients to their clinic," Mean Hea said. "For one client the officer
who provides information about the traffic accident would get $5 or $10."
He said the quality of private clinics' ambulances was uncertain. Some lacked necessary
skills and their equipment was not of the high standard of the public-hospital ambulances.
"We know of people who had traffic accidents and were taken to a clinic where
the treatment was wrong, then transferred from the clinic to Calmette hospital at
the point of death," Mean Hea said. "Other victims lose money and are poorer."
Heng Taykry, secretary of state at the MOH and director of Calmette Hospital, similarly
told the Post on November 8 that traffic police summon private-clinic ambulances
to accidents because they can make money.
He said some private clinics provide only minimal treatment for several days while
they find out if the accident victim is rich or poor.
"If the victims are poor and don't have money to pay them they transfer them
to the public hospital - but some victims are nearly dead by the time they arrive,"
Mean Hea said clinics that persisted in providing illicit emergency services for
traffic accidents face the likelihood of being shut down.
Tin Prasoaur, chief of Phnom Penh Municipal Traffic Police, denied the allegations
of corruption between police officers and the private clinics.
"I cannot accept the allegation of bribery in cases of traffic accidents; it
is up to the request of the victim, and the police officers always call the nearest
emergency services," he said.
Taing Vengseng, owner of Chantrea Clinic, told the Post his clinic stopped sending
ambulances to pick up traffic accident victims when the MOH reissued its regulation
"I am not a doctor," he said. "I am a businessman and making money,
therefore I considered that all services had to be provided to the public as competition
in the market."
Vengseng said accusations that the clinic extorted money from the victims and bribed
police officers were not true.
But he said his clinic always used to give $5 for a cellphone card to police or motodup
who phoned them about a traffic accident.
He said it was better to give phone cards to people who directed business to his
ambulance than to advertise in newspapers or on TV and radio.
"Many people who have traffic accidents are poor and unconscious and we treat
them for several days while we wait for their family, and we take the risk in making
money or losing it," Vengseng said.
According to the MOH there are 679 medical consulting rooms in Phnom Penh, of which
434 are legal and 245 illegal. There are 16 clinics, of which two are illegal.
The legal ambulance services that the MOH says should be called to traffic accidents
Calmette Hospital, covering Prampi Makara, Daun Penh, Russei Keo, Phnom Penh International
Airport, and embassies in Phnom Penh. The speed dial is 119, the phone number 023
724 891, (012 974 119 does not yet work) and walkie-talkie number 14320.
Kossamak Hospital, covering Toul Kok, Dangkau, and Russei Keo. The phone number is
016 219 119 and walkie-talkie number 14675.
Sihanouk Khmer and Soviet Friendship Hospital, covering Chamkarmon and Meanchey districts.
The phone number is 012 827 119 and walkie-talkie 15194.
Phnom Penh Municipal Hospital, covering the center of Phnom Penh. Its phone number
is 011 819 119.
The Post tried to contact all these numbers. Only Calmette's 119 was answered.
On an earlier occasion, Calmette's 119 also went unanswered when a Post staffer at
the scene of an accident called it repeatedly. The staffer took the accident victim
to Calmette by taxi, went to the ambulance phone room and asked the sole attendant
why the phone had not been answered. She said perhaps she had been in the toilet.