LCQ10: Non-emergency ambulance transfer service

    Following is a question by the Dr Hon Fernando Cheung and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (December 5):


     I have learnt that as many people with physical disabilities are currently living in the community and the Rehabus service is not sufficient, such people therefore have to rely on the non-emergency ambulance transfer service of the Hospital Authority (HA) for travelling to and from public hospitals for follow-up consultations. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether it knows:

(a) the existing number of non-emergency ambulances in each of the hospital clusters under HA, and the respective numbers of such ambulances which have been in use for over 10 years and those with platforms having a single handrail only; whether HA has any plans to increase the number of non-emergency ambulances and replace those which have been used for over 10 years;

(b) last year's average utilisation rate of the above ambulances in each of the hospital clusters under HA; and whether there is a waiting list for the service; if there is, the current number of people waiting for the service and the estimated average waiting time in each of the clusters; if not, how HA assesses the demand for such service; and

(c) given that a patient has complained to me that it took him six hours to wait for a non-emergency ambulance to take him home after a follow-up consultation at The Duchess of Kent Children's Hospital at Sandy Bay, and another four hours to travel from the hospital to his home in Tuen Mun even without any traffic congestion, because the ambulance had to transfer patients from hospitals in Kowloon and other areas during the journey, whether HA has drawn up any performance indicators (e.g. the maximum waiting time and travelling time) for the non-emergency ambulance transfer service; if it has, of the relevant details; if not, how HA monitors and enhances the quality of such service; and the daily schedule of a non-emergency ambulance?


Madam President,

     The non-emergency ambulance transfer service (NEATS) of the Hospital Authority (HA) and the Rehabus service of the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation (HKSR) are services with different nature and objectives. Rehabus is mainly to provide people with mobility-disability with transport services between their homes and workplaces, schools and social places. The HA's NEATS is mainly to provide geriatric day hospital patients, discharged patients (in-patients or patients who have received treatment at Accident and Emergency Departments) and specialist out-patient clinic patients with point-to-point transport services between their homes and public hospitals or specialist out-patient clinics. The target clients of NEATS are mainly those mobility-handicapped patients who are unable to use bus, taxi and Rehabus services. Patients have to meet the HA's established criteria and guidelines for NEATS in order to receive the services. These patients include stretcher-bound patients, wheelchair-bound patients (who live in places not accessible by lift), aged patients who live alone and have to rely on walking aid, mentally or sensorily (e.g. eyesight) impaired patients who are not escorted by friends or relatives on discharge from hospital. In arranging NEATS services to patients, the HA in general accords priority to discharged patients and patients transferred from one hospital to another.

     In addition to NEATS, the HA also provides Easy-Access Transport Service (ETS), which is to provide patients aged above 60 with minor mobility-disability with transport services between their homes and hospitals or clinics. The operation of ETS is contracted out to HKSR.

The reply to the questions is as follows:

(a) Currently, the HA has a total of 127 non-emergency ambulances. To provide NEATS to needy patients in a more effective manner, the management of the services in respect of the two clusters on Hong Kong Island (Hong Kong East and Hong Kong West Clusters) and of the three clusters in Kowloon (Kowloon East, Kowloon Central and Kowloon West Clusters) was merged into the Hong Kong district in December 2006 and the Kowloon district in October 2007 respectively. At present, there are 31 non-emergency ambulances in the Hong Kong district, 67 in the Kowloon district, 20 in the New Territories East Cluster and 9 in the New Territories West Cluster.

     There are 95 non-emergency ambulances which have been in use for over 10 years. Meanwhile, there are a total of 110 non-emergency ambulances with platforms having a single handrail only.

     The HA is purchasing 80 new ambulances (all with platforms having two-handrails) to replace those which have been in use for a long period of time. The HA anticipates that 45 of them will be put into service in February next year, and the remaining 35 in December next year. The HA has no plan to acquire additional ambulances for the time being.

(b) The utilisation rates (in terms of number of persons served) of NEATS in 2005/06 and 2006/07 are provided in Annex 1.

     The HA does not provide NEATS by way of a waiting list system. Patients in need of such service may make their requests direct to the clinical staff at the clinics or hospitals they attend. Providing that the patients can meet the criteria for the service, the clinical staff will make a NEATS booking for them through a dedicated computer booking system when making arrangement for their next follow-up consultation appointments. This is to ensure that the transfer service will tie in with the follow-up consultation.

(c) To achieve optimum use of resources, arrangements are usually made for patients with similar transfer locations or/and bookings at close time slots to be transported by one non-emergency ambulance. Since patients being served by the same ambulance attend follow-up consultations or are discharged from hospital at different places and times, it is inevitable that some patients have to wait for the service. The patients' travelling time from clinics/hospitals to their homes would hinge on the number of patients on the same ambulance and their conditions (e.g. where there are patients living in places not accessible by lift, the HA's staff may have to escort them to their homes), the distance between the patients' homes and the places of their medical appointments, the traffic conditions, etc. Therefore, the HA does not set any performance indicators on waiting time and travelling time. The control centres of the districts or clusters have always tried to reduce patients' waiting and travelling time as far as possible through flexible deployment of ambulances. The HA reviews the quality of NEATS services from time to time and has set performance indicators in terms of the number of passengers per ambulance per day in monitoring the quality of the service.

     As mentioned above, the HA provides NEATS services through flexible deployment of ambulances in accordance with the patients' bookings. There is thus no fixed route or schedule for the service.

Ends/Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Issued at HKT 14:16