COVID-19 patients are the ones paying the price amid the tussle over rates between the government and ambulance operators in Gurgaon

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COVID-19 patients are the ones paying the price amid the tussle over rates between the government and ambulance operators in Gurgaon
Representative image - Ambulances with bodies of COVID-19 patients who died of COVID-19 lined up outside a crematorium in New Delhi on April 27BCCL
  • Private ambulances in Gurgaon are on strike amid the surging cases of COVID-19 due an ongoing tussle with the government over prices.
  • Haryana’s Regional Transport Authority (RTA) imposed a limit on the amount private ambulances could charge to transport a COVID-19 patient after complaints of exorbitant prices.
  • According to the Private Ambulance Association (PAA) the price that has been fixed by the government is not enough to run their services.
Abhimanyu Mukherji has been trying to get an ambulance for his 77-year old father in Gurgaon since Wednesday morning, only to find out that private ambulances are on strike today.

“Finally, after hours of searching for a hospital we got a bed only to realise we have no way to get him there. We were sure to lose the bed,” he told Business Insider.

According to him, ambulances that dare to operate in spite of the strike are being damaged by other operators. "I am the only attendant there [at home] and I cannot possibly administer the oxygen and drive the car at the same time,” Mukherji said, after he finally found someone with a bigger car to help drive his father to the hospital.

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The strike comes after Haryana’s Regional Transport Authority (RTA) imposed a limit on the amount private ambulances could charge to transport a COVID-19 patient.

“We are ready to donate these ambulances to the district administration as we will suffer huge losses and will not be able to make our ends meet.”

Rajesh Yadav, president of the Private Ambulance Association (PAA)

According to Rajesh Yadav, president of the Private Ambulance Association (PAA), the price that has been fixed by the government is not enough to run their services. He told the Hindustan Times that the rates are the same as they were 20 years ago. “There has been inflation on all products and services, but the transport department wants us to operate at the same charge,” he said.

Government rates Type of ambulance
₹7 per kilometre Basic ambulance
₹17 per kilometreAdvanced ambulance

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An investigation by India Today revealed some ambulance operators in Gurgaon have been charging in excess of ₹1,000 per kilometre to shift COVID-19 patients. Attendants of patients in critical conditions are ready to shell out the money required in order to avail the emergency service.

With the strike halting the movement of private ambulances altogether, the shortage of ambulances — especially those with ventilators and oxygen support — is likely to get more severe.

Private ambulance operators claim government rates are an underestimation of cost


The PAA asserts that the government has cited such low charge because they purchase public ambulances from a fixed budget. The maintenance work on those ambulances, however, is outsourced.
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This means that the government is only buying the ambulances. It does not bear the burden of fuel costs or monthly installments, according to the PAA.

Private ambulance operators not only have to pay monthly installments of around ₹55,000 to ₹60,000 per ambulance, but they also have to pay the drivers’ salaries and employ at least one attendant. They also have to pay doctors who are on-call.

In the face of COVID-19, operation costs have surged even further since ambulances have to keep oxygen supply and personal protective equipment (PPE) topped up for every new COVID-19 patient.
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At times, they are also left waiting for several hours — with their ignition on to ensure the medical equipment is up and running — which adds to the operators’ cost, especially with fuel prices having increased this past year.

According to the Times of India, Gurgaon currently has nearly 500 ambulances, including government, private and ambulances attached to different hospitals. And the NCR is one of the worst hit urban areas in the country.

In the squabble over prices between the operators and the government, it’s people like Mukherji who are in need of emergency services who will suffer.
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