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Illegal ambulance confiscated

TRAFFIC police yesterday seized an unlicensed ambulance which looked like a normal hospital vehicle but supplied its patients with industrial oxygen, a gas banned for medical use. The vehicle was seized at 9am at a hospital in Yangpu District during a citywide crackdown launched jointly by health authorities, the traffic administration and police against unlicensed "underground" ambulances. Although the vehicle had all the equipment that a normal ambulance should have, including first-aid kits, alarm lights and siren and hospital signs, the law enforcement team uncovered a great safety hazard after carrying out a thorough check. The most serious danger was with the oxygen cylinder which was not filled with medical oxygen but with the industrial variety that is banned for medical use, said Shen Jiming, an official with the Shanghai Medical Emergency Center. "Industrial oxygen can be fatally damaging to patients as it may contain exhaust, impurities, and even toxic gas," said Shen. The law enforcement team also found the vehicle was equipped with a simple stretcher but had no sterilizing devices, which could put patients at high risk of cross-infection. According to traffic police, there have been cases where patients have died in "underground" ambulances because unlicensed doctors in the vehicle were not able to revive them en route to hospitals. They also warned that although "underground" ambulances may be cheaper than licensed ones, very often their owners would charge extra fees during the trip as they knew that the patients' relatives were not in a position to refuse their demands. According to Shen, "underground" ambulances emerged in the city several years ago when there were not enough licensed ambulances to carry patients across provinces. The problem has since been fixed with more ambulances put into use, but the "underground" ambulance business continues to boom as they usually offer cheaper services than the legal ambulances, said Shen. "Owners of illegal ambulances often hire workers to spy i! n hospit als and send out advertisements of their services so they can establish early contact with potential patients," Shen added. Police said they were investigating the owner of the ambulance, who faces punishment for illegally modifying the vehicle, using police siren and lights, and for unlicensed practice of medicine.

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