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City goes after illegal ambulances

A CRACKDOWN on "underground" ambulances has been launched by health authorities, the traffic administration and police in Shanghai.

From Monday there will be extensive undercover investigations and crackdown raids, authorities said.

The underground ambulances' main business is transporting patients from Shanghai to other provinces because of a shortage of official ambulances. Some ambulances are completely unlicensed while others are licensed to carry patients only in other provinces.

Officials from the Shanghai Medical Emergency Center said the number of genuine ambulances in the city has been increasing over the past few years and by the end of last year there were more than 500 in operation.

"However, most ambulances only transport patients within the city and capacity still lags behind increasing demand," said Guan Min, a center official.

There are currently only four or five official ambulances involved in out-of-town transport. However, such services are needed seven or eight times a day.

"The shortage provides loopholes for underground ambulances, which park around hospitals and distributed name cards among patients to get business," Guan said. "We investigated such ambulances and found eight or nine such vehicles."

Officials said underground ambulances often lacked proper medical equipment and medical staff.

"Underground ambulances don't have adequate medical capability and patients could be in danger during the journey," Guan said.

Most underground ambulances are not registered in Shanghai. They wait outside community and district-level hospitals for business, said Wu Runyuan, an official with the traffic law enforcement team.

Underground ambulances usually asked for lower fees than legal ones, which charge about 120 yuan (US$17.50) for an in-town journey and 6.5 yuan per kilometer outside Shanghai.

Transport administration insiders said a surplus of ambulances existed in other cities and regions, because of a looser licensing process, resulting in ambulances coming to Shanghai to find business.

Underground ambulance operators face penalties of up to 100,000 yuan for operating without a license.


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