CHINA / National

Air ambulance ready for take-off
By Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-06-01 06:02

NANJING: Potentially life-saving helicopter rescue operations in East China's Jiangsu Province will start today, local medical officials announced earlier this week.

"The service could be the difference between life and death for those in remote or inaccessible places," said Yin Jun, spokesman of the No 454 Hospital of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in provincial capital Nanjing

The hospital, equipped with a roof-top helipad, is the only hospital in the city authorized to offer the air ambulance service at the moment.

Through a 24-hour hotline, patients from all around Nanjing will be picked up by the helicopter if their situation warrants it, according to Yin.

But Yin stressed that the air ambulance is mainly intended for emergencies that are inaccessible for land vehicles, including accidents on water or in forests.

"Regular emergency situations in which it is more convenient and efficient to use a road ambulance will not be approved," said Yin.

However, members of the public expressed concern that few ordinary people could afford the helicopter.

"Even if the medical care fee is exempted, the flight fee for one rescue task will be at least 20,000 yuan (US$2,500)," said Zhao Xiaohong, a local resident. "That is definitely a big number for a middle-income family."

But Liu Ning, a doctor at Jiangsu People's Hospital, said it was worth the money.

"To see a patient die due to the delay in arrival of rescue workers is the last thing people want to see. I believe the hope of life is more precious than money."

And according to Liu, air ambulance services in other parts of the country have saved hundreds of lives every year and proven efficient in emergency rescue.

The PLA hospital on Monday purchased a Robinson R44 helicopter, which can seat four people including the pilot.

Yin said they are planning to substitute it with a bigger helicopter that can seat 10 people after a year of trial operations.

According to Yin, the chopper will be fitted with the necessary medical equipment to enable doctors to treat and stabilize patients in transit.

There will be a medical care team on duty 24 hours a day, Yin added.

Yin said that since the hospital is affiliated to the PLA Air Force and is also the training centre for air rescue for the PLA, they will have no technical difficulties conducting emergency flights across the region.

(China Daily 06/01/2006 page3)