As a nation accustomed to dialling 999 and summoning an ambulance, it may seem incredible that a country with as vast a population as India doesn’t have a proper ambulance service.
However, as a group of local paramedics know only too well, anyone unfortunate to be involved in an accident in the country is often loaded onto a motorbike or the back of a police van-cum-makeshift ambulance, or worse, left by the roadside.
And as for life-saving resuscitation techniques or heart monitoring, these are procedures in which even doctors have been given only rudimentary training.
It’s a scenario that is slowly being changed in the Madhuban area, about 70 miles from Delhi, and it’s thanks to voluntary work by members of the local Ambulance Service that ordinary citizens are literally being given a better chance of survival.
On October 25, six crew members will leave for Arpana Hospital, where they will work for two weeks.
The group consists of Frank Armstrong, a divisional training officer from Dromore, who will be making his sixth visit and now considers the hospital and its staff as a second family.
He will be joined by Sean Gordon, Armagh; Alan McElmurray, Craigavon; Joanne Murphy, Armagh; Jim O’Hagan, Derrytrasna; Tracey O’Kane, Armagh, and Adrian McGrath, Banbridge.
The team’s work will be threefold – to teach nurses, doctors and paramedics pre-hospital, emergency care; to work within the hospital; and to raise money to buy medical equipment which they will bring with them.
Arpana Hospital is run by the Arpana charity, whose motto is ‘Giving of Oneself’.
It was founded in 1960 and the Northern Ireland group became involved in 2003 through Antrim GP Dr Davinder Kapur, awarded an MBE this year for services to healthcare at home and abroad.
Frank said, “When I was out about four years ago, a 26-year-old was brought into casualty on the back of a motorbike after being involved in a road accident.
“It turned out he had spinal injuries and he ended up a quadriplegic. No-one realised that he shouldn’t have been moved at the scene.”
However, there have also been occasions when the local team was on hand and able to identify serious injuries and save lives – including last year when Adrian intervened after a 14-year-old was brought in, again after a motorbike accident.
He made sure he was x-rayed and taken to an appropriate hospital, where his fractured skull was successfully treated.
On another occasion last year, a man in his 50s was admitted with a heart attack.
Frank explained, “Doctors had identified he was having a heart attack, but didn’t know the importance of good monitoring, so we were able to show them what to do.
“Shortly after he arrived, he started to go into cardiac arrest but we were able to start CPR and brought him back to life.
“Since we have been coming and giving training sessions, I have seen a significant change in the standard of care.
“The hospital has two ambulances and we are also educating villagers to call the ambulance in emergencies. It’s about changing a mindset.”
As ambulance staff who have been there before will attest to, what the volunteers give in terms of their time and expertise, they get back tenfold, with the medical staff and patients they encounter being very welcoming and extremely appreciative.
Aidan Kelly, from Aghagallon, who has volunteered before but is not going this year, said, “It has touched me not just on a physical level but on a spiritual level.
“The people have this presence; they bring a sense of humanity with them.”
Before they leave, the team are holding a number of fundraising events with the aim of raising between £8,000-£10,000 to buy equipment including defibrillators, vital signs monitors, a maternal and foetal monitor, surgical equipment, spinal boards, splints, bandages and a respiration monitor.
The first event is a Golf Day at Portadown Golf Club on Friday, September 26.
Companies are being invited a sponsor a tee or a green and people are also needed to go along and play on the day.
For more details phone Stevie Hughes on 07835 442099 or David Gibson on 07749 118219.
On Thursday, September 11, there will be a Night at the Races at Red Ned’s Bar in Armagh, as well as a number of ballots and raffles.
Aidan Kelly is aiming to run up the Mournes and down (a height of 2,500 ft) three times in a single day; Armagh Lions Club has already made a donation; and team member Jim Kelly raised £1,200 in a ‘Cube’ event.
The team members pay for their own flights and expenses, so all money raised goes to the purchase of equipment.
Any money left over will be used to buy hospital trolleys once the group arrives in India.
Anyone wishing to donate or help in the fundraising should contact Frank on 07880 504 598.