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Ambulance Service Faces Crisis of Chaos

The Ministry of Health in November issued a ban on the “anarchic grabbing” of victims of traffic accidents, following the development of a system where witnesses earn money for calling private clinics that may be too far away to really help a victim.

The majority have abided the directive, which was followed by sharp words for ambulance operators from Prime Minsiter Hun Sen, but not all.

“For the safety of victims and avoiding the anarchic activities of grabbing customers, the ministry banned private clinics from sending their ambulances to take victims of accidents,” said Heng Taykry, secretary of state for the Ministry of Health. “The ministry will annul the licenses and shut down the clinics of those who violate this directive. And traffic police and concerned authorities are empowered to stop the ambulances.”

The directive is meant to address the growing problem of ambulance pay schemes to tipsters or traffic police, but Chhorn Nareth, chief of Calmette Hospital’s ambulance operation—the official operation of Cambodia—said the ban requires the cooperation of the public.

“The order has been effective,” he said. “There are only one or two private clinics that continue to send their ambulances.”

It remains to be seen whether the directive will mitigate some of the chaos at accident scenes.

Adding to the problem is that the official 119 number, which connects to Calmette, is often abused.

“Hello, is this the number for your ambulance?” a young man asks a 119 operator.

“Yes, this is the emergency line,” she says.

“One day, when I am sick, I will call you,” the youth says, hanging up.

“Hello, darling,” says an apparently inebriated caller. “Talk to me again. I want to listen to you. Do you understand me? I call you every day.”

Uvicheka Linda, a Calmette emergency line operator, said she has become used to conversations like these, which make up 80 percent of her incoming calls.

“They cursed me every day, old or young,” she said. “I think that if we could identify their number, it would be better, because our number is very important for people who are in danger.”