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Emergency Medical Services in Hong Kong

Emergency medical services in Hong Kong are provided by the Hong Kong Fire Service, in cooperation with two other voluntary organizations

The Hong Kong Fire Service is the statutory provider of emergency ambulance service in Hong Kong, as mandated by regulations from the Legislative Council. The service has a considerable history, but only amalgamated into a single unified service in 1979, when previous government ambulance operations were merged with those of the fire service. The service employs some 2200 people and operates approximately 256 emergency ambulances and 35 motorcycles from 36 depots, located strategically around the Hong Kong territory. In 2006, the service responded to more than 575,000 emergency calls, and transported approximately 514,000 people to hospital. In addition, the service operates a number of rapid response vehicles, and four heavy truck-based Mobile Treatment Centres. The service provides emergency transport to the 14 publicly operated Hong Kong Hospital Authority facilities which operate Accident and Emergency departments. The service follows the Anglo-American model (as opposed to the Franco-German model) of EMS service provision. It is rare to see a physician at the scene of an emergency.

The statutory service is supplemented by two organizations – St. John Ambulance, a charity organization and the Auxiliary Medical Service, a government-run voluntary service. Both of these services focus primarily on providing coverage to special events, and on public education, although both have written agreements with the statutory service to provide additional ambulances during a disaster.

Air Ambulance

In Hong Kong, all air ambulance service is provided by the Government Flying Service; a joint service providing aviation support to all departments of the government. The service operates from two bases (the current and former Hong Kong airports, Hong Kong International Airport and Kai-Tak Airport. While the service employs a number of different types of aircraft, those used for both air ambulance service and search and rescue service are primarily of the Puma and Super-Puma types. The physical terrain is such that most level areas are densely populated and heavily built up. As a result, air ambulance operations usually involve those communities which are isolated either in the mountains, or on offshore islands, with an occasional rescue at sea or medevac flight from a ship. Medical personnel to support such flights are provided by the Hong Kong Fire Service, as required.

Standards Vehicles

The majority of ambulances in Hong Kong are originally of British design; a reflection of Hong Kong's long association with Britain. As a result, the design of the majority of ambulances approximately corresponds to the European Standard CEN 1789 as published by the European Committee for Standards with respect to vehicle design and equipment, although not with the visual identity provisions. Until recently, most vehicles corresponded with the European Class B design, although current vehicle acquisitions more closely resemble the Class C design. Given that Hong Kong has never been a member of the European Community, it appears likely that the approximate compliance is coincidental. In addition, the service operates a handful of vehicles for isolated areas where the full-sized ambulances have difficulty in travelling. These are known locally as 'village ambulances'. In terms of visual identity, all ambulances in Hong Kong are white in body colour, and are equipped with flashing blue lights and with sirens. The emergency ambulances operated by the Hong Kong Fire Service display red livery, while those of the voluntary agencies display green livery. All of the emergency ambulances of the Hong Kong Fire Service carry advanced life support (ALS) equipment, while those of the volunteer agencies do not. All Hong Kong ambulances carry Automatic External Defibrillators.

Dispatch

As with many things in Hong Kong, the dispatch of emergency vehicles continues to be influenced by the British legacy. The telephone number for emergency services throughout Hong Kong is 999, just as in Britain. All 999 calls are answered by the Hong Kong Police Force. If an ambulance is the only response required, the call is passed directly to Hong Kong Fire Services dispatchers. If the call information is complex, as with a traffic accident, the police dispatchers will notify the ambulance service when they suspect that ambulances might be required. Both ambulances and fire apparatus are co-dispatched by the Hong Kong Fire Service dispatchers. The system operates technologies and decision support software that are approximately equivalent with those found in Europe and North America.

Response times

The objective of the Hong Kong Fire Service is to have an ambulance on the scene of an emergency within twelve minutes of receiving the request, 24 hours per day. They are currently achieving that objective on more than 93 percent of all emergency calls. The current dispatch system in Hong Kong does not categorize ambulance calls by medical acuity, although there are plans to introduce this measure in the future.

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