Ambulance calls climb with ageing population

To meet growing needs, SCDF has added more emergency ambulances to its fleet, bringing the total to 55. More firefighters have also been trained to provide the first line of medical response for victims.
To meet growing needs, SCDF has added more emergency ambulances to its fleet, bringing the total to 55. More firefighters have also been trained to provide the first line of medical response for victims.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CIVIL DEFENCE FORCE

Rise in emergency calls, especially from elderly, may test SCDF resources

The number of ambulance calls continued to rise last year, raising fears that it could start to stretch the resources of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

About two in five such calls involved the elderly, as 2015 saw the overall number climb for the fifth year in a row.

There were 165,853 calls to SCDF's emergency ambulance hotline last year - up by 10,072 or 6.5 per cent on 2014.

The figure has contributed to an annual increase of about 5 per cent on average over the past five years.

Nearly two in five of the calls were for cases involving people aged 65 or above.

In all, calls received from the elderly grew by 7 per cent to 62,051 last year, up from 57,931 in 2014.

SCDF expects this trend to continue because of Singapore's greying population, and cautioned that this would mean a greater load on its resources.

SCDF medical department director Yazid Abdullah said: "With a steady increase of about 5 per cent each year, the number of calls will double in 15 years. It is simply not tenable for us to be increasing our resources at the same rate."

Colonel Yazid urged the public to seek medical help from nearby family doctors for non-emergency issues such as toothaches or slight burns. Such calls increased by nearly half to 6,480 last year.

More emergency ambulances were added to bring SCDF's total fleet size to 55, while more firefighters were trained to be the first line of medical response for victims.

In addition, SCDF's myResponder mobile application, developed with the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, notifies registered users of cardiac arrest cases within a 400m radius.

The app, which adds to a network of trained community first responders, was launched as part of the Save-a-Life initiative last August.

Since then, more than 200 people have rendered their assistance after being alerted via the app.

Some performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while others helped to retrieve publicly accessible automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

Annually, more than 1,800 Singaporeans suffer cardiac arrest, of whom only 3 per cent survive.

"Every second matters as chances of survival drop by 7 to 10 per cent every minute," said SCDF chief medical officer Ng Yih Yng.

Civil servant Ken Gong became a "beneficiary" of the app last month.

While on a Sunday morning jog at a Bishan neighbourhood park, the 45-year-old collapsed from a heart attack.

An HDB block away, health lecturer Michelle Lim was having breakfast at a coffee shop near her home when the app alerted her.

"I didn't think twice - I simply raced over because it was nearby. I just wanted to help," said the 50-year-old.

She performed CPR on Mr Gong for about 10 minutes until the SCDF ambulance arrived.

When they met for the first time yesterday, he thanked the woman who had saved his life.

"When you talk about saving lives, the feeling is very different when you're the one being saved," said Mr Gong, who is married with no children.

"For the record, I've already signed up as a responder on the app."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2016, with the headline 'Ambulance calls climb with ageing population'. Print Edition | Subscribe