Profit amid pandemic: Pvt ambulance charges soar over Rs 1K for 1 km
KOLKATA: With a sharp rise in Covid cases, a section of private ambulance operators in the city have allegedly been charging patients exorbitantly. In the current situation, many people are forced to avail the private ambulance services even at much higher rates.
Many allegations surfaced where the ambulance operators had charged more than Rs 1,000 for one km within the city. Family members of a Covid infected patient said a private ambulance had picked a 72-year-old patient from his residence at Hati Bagan area and dropped him at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital. The family members said that a private ambulance driver demanded Rs 8,000. "We initially tried to get a government ambulance but failed. Then we went for private one. We were asked to pay the amount only for a distance of 4.8 km. The driver said that during the morning hours the charge would have been lowered to Rs 4,000," a relative said.
In another instance, a private ambulance driver demanded Rs 3,500 from the family members of a patient for ferrying him to the SSKM Hospital from Park Circus, the distance of which would be around 3.5 km. The same ambulance driver said that if there was no requirement of oxygen, then the charge would have been lowered to Rs 2,500.
Somnath Das, a resident of Beliaghata who admitted his father to the NRS Medical College a few days ago said: "My father is not a Covid patient. A private ambulance charged us Rs 6000 only for taking the patient to the hospital. The distance between my house and NRS Hospital is around 3.5 km. The ambulance driver said that the charges would have been higher if the patient had been infected with Covid. The private operators are looting people."
Sources said there are at least 500 private ambulances operating within the city. After the Covid broke out last year, the State government had fixed the rate chart. The private operators were asked to take Rs 600 if they ferry patients within the city. If there is a requirement of oxygen the ambulances can charge Rs 700. But many of the ambulance operators are flouting the norms set by the government last year.
"It is not possible for the health department to control private ambulances. Transport department and police often conduct vigils. We are trying to operate more number of ambulances to deal with the issue. An emergency number has been uploaded on the health department's site so that people can avail government ambulances," a senior health official said.