SAF's faster response to injuries in the field

Civilian paramedics to reach casualties anywhere in the field within 11 minutes

SOLDIERS who are critically injured during small-scale training exercises are now being seen and treated by civilian paramedics in the field, in a move to sharpen the military's emergency response.

The change is a result of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) outsourcing its emergency ambulance services, which allows the activation of civilian-run ambulances to military training areas during medical emergencies.

The new emergency procedure will see a team of three civilian first responders, led by a paramedic, reaching casualties anywhere in the field within 11 minutes.

Emergency doctors said that the move will boost the emergency care of injured army troops, who train very often in the western part of Singapore that stretches from Lim Chu Kang to Jurong, where they usually practise battle manoeuvres in the forests or conduct live-firing exercises.

Previously, only SAF medics, who may not be as seasoned or skilled as civilian paramedics, were stationed on site to deal with emergencies during training drills such as field camps, route marches and navigation exercises.

Another improvement is that casualties will now be taken straight to the hospital to get medical help from emergency doctors.

No longer is it necessary to first take casualties to the nearest SAF medical centre to be seen by the military doctors.

Since the new ambulance service was launched on Jan 19, two injured servicemen have been evacuated in civilian ambulances from the training areas to the hospital.

Chief army medical officer Poon Beng Hoong told The Straits Times that the latest move has sped up the SAF's emergency response, although he did not want to say by how much.

"It is a dedicated, 24/7 system that projects care outfield to servicemen... That's an important change," said Colonel (Dr) Poon.

Six ambulances are stationed at six SAF medical centres across the island. When activated, they rush to 16 designated medical posts in the training areas to attend to casualties, who typically suffer heat and trauma injuries, and respiratory distress.

The new ambulance service is being launched ahead of the opening of the Ng Teng Fong Hospital in Jurong in July, which will allow soldiers in the western part of Singapore to get to the hospital in 15 minutes - half the 30-minute journey to the National University Hospital, where most SAF casualties in the west are rushed to.

Describing the civilian-run ambulance service as a "game changer", Associate Professor Eillyne Seow said that having the "clinical acumen" of civilian paramedics will boost the quality of care of injured servicemen in the field.

"It is critical that paramedics are able to identify signs and symptoms very quickly to decide how best to manage the casualty," said the senior consultant at Tan Tock Seng Hospital's emergency department.

jermync@sph.com.sg