Today’s Editorial April 15: No urgency in emergencies

Early last August, one of Cayman’s three ambulances – and a newer one at that – was written off after the vehicle crashed.

At the time, Minister of Health Anthony Eden, recognising the critical role emergency response played in saving lives, vowed to have the vehicle replaced ‘in the shortest possible timeframe’. More than nine months later, there is still no replacement for the written-off ambulance.

To get the Health Services Authority through its time of need, a back-up vehicle more than 10 years old was used. According to a response to a question in Finance Committee last June from the Health Services Authority’s then Acting CEO Lizzette Yearwood, international safety regulations state the useful life of ambulances should be no more than five years or 120,000 miles.

Not only has the HSA been using ambulances that have more than doubled their recommended useful life in terms of years, one has about 50 per cent more miles that suggested by international safety regulations.

As a result of the aging fleet, the ambulances have been subject to many breakdowns, forcing the HSA to use a storm-damaged ambulance that is not supposed to be used for emergency care.

We understand that the wheels of government sometimes turn slowly. However, when it comes to a matter of public safety and emergency response, it is appalling that Ministry of Health has not been able to deliver on Mr. Eden’s promise to have a new ambulance here in the shortest possible timeframe – unless it thinks a nine or ten month wait is acceptable when lives are at stake.

What makes the matter more irksome is that Cabinet reportedly approved the purchase of three new ambulances late last August or early last September. However, those ambulances were not ordered until recently. One ambulance is now expected to arrive later this month and two more toward the end of May.

While it’s true that even if Cabinet approved the purchase of the ambulances last August or September, the funding also needed approval by Finance Committee. However, as has happened numerous times over the years, Finance Committee funding can come after the fact, especially when there is a matter of urgency involving public safety.

For whatever reason, the government did not see fit to do that, even though there was a Supplementary Annual Plan and Estimates presented to the Legislative Assembly and approved by the Finance Committee last October.

Having such a delay occur in providing the people of Grand Cayman with adequate and reliable ambulance service, especially when government was spending lots of money on many non-life-or-death items, is inexcusable.

Having substandard ambulance service further erodes the confidence of the public in the HSA. It’s not fair to the Emergency Medical Service personnel and, most of all, it’s not fair to the people of the Cayman Islands, who deserve better.