The Ministry of Health is scraping by in emergencies as it awaits a new ambulance and the recruitment of paramedics.
Volunteer firefighters are helping cover emergency callouts, and New Zealand’s Rotary charity is offering to ship over an ambulance. Rarotonga previously had three ambulances. Now it’s down to two – a shiny Toyota Land Cruiser and an ageing Chevrolet that’s said to be barely operational.
Health spokesperson Howard Tangimetua said the 20-year-old Chevrolet was still able to attend emergency callouts, though others including his own boss, Health Secretary Dr Aumea Herman, cast doubt on its reliability. The Ministry is banking on Japanese promises of a new ambulance early next year – and meanwhile, the Ministry is discussing the gift of an ambulance from New Zealand.
Dr Herman said the Ministry was in the process of recruiting more paramedics; until then emergency operators were calling in trained volunteers from the Puaikura fire brigade.
And Rarotonga Hospital had two ambulances, she said, one of which was not suitable for emergency runs.
Rotary New Zealand executive director Stuart Batty said they were awaiting word on whether the Ministry of Health would accept their ambulance. “We will not be taking any further action until such time as we receive a positive response.”
Earlier this year, New Zealand Rotary provided Tonga with a Mercedes ambulance, originally gifted by St John Ambulance. Rotary paid for shipping, new signwriting and more.
Finance Secretary Garth Henderson said he didn’t know the details but understood Rotary’s ambulance was a second-hand Mercedes. “Government will not add vehicles to the government fleet that are ‘old’, that have high maintenance costs or are unreliable, can’t be serviced locally, have a short service life and then we are faced with disposal costs,” he said.
The Government Fleet Management Policy lists approved brands, based on ability to service them on the island, availability of spare parts and a proven track record. Government vehicles should be brand new, it says.
Henderson noted they had Toyota Land Cruiser ambulances due next year from Japan, one intended for Rarotonga. That would replace the Chevrolet.
Yesterday, former Rotary Cook Islands president Jaewynn McKay confirmed the organisation was pleased to offer a much-needed ambulance.
“I understand there’s only one that’s properly operational in Rarotonga, which we all agree isn’t enough for a population of this size, not to mention all our visitors as well.”
She was hopeful any questions about servicing the vehicle could be addressed.
“There are rules to work through around adding a second-hand vehicle to the government fleet.
“But we're working closely together with the Ministry of Health to find a common sense way to make this work, and I think if everyone wants this to happen, it will happen.”