Mental health: ‘Don’t deny ambulance services to mentally ill patients,’ says health ministry

Recently, the union health ministry sent a letter to all the states and union territories. The letter highlighted cases wherein people with mental illnesses were declined emergency services and were discriminated against. The ministry has stated that such persons have an equal right to these services and should not be ignored in any circumstances

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When you face a medical emergency at home what is the first thing that comes to your mind? You surely decide to call an ambulance.

But what if your patient is facing a psychiatric emergency? The people who run the ambulance service usually ask you what type of emergency is the patient is facing. It has been observed that when you tell them about this they either come up with an excuse or provide an alibi and decline to help you. Leaving you stranded in a time of crisis.

Now, such cases have come to the notice of the union health ministry. The union health ministry has issued a letter to the Additional Chief Secretaries (Health)/Principal Secretaries (Health)/ Secretaries (Health) of all states and union territories and the mission directors of the National Health Mission of all states and union territories.

The letter brings to notice the instances where cases of mentally ill persons in need of an ambulance were either declined or ignored.

The said letter stated:

The objective of the Emergency Referral Services under National Ambulance Services (NAS) is to support emergency cases which includes mental/psychiatric emergencies also. It has come to our notice that the provision of ambulance services with reference to cases of mental/psychiatric emergencies are being denied in few States/UTs.

As per Chapter V – Section 21, para (c) of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017:

‘Every person with mental illness shall be treaed as equal to persons with physical illness in the provision of all healthcare which shall include the following, namely:-

(c) persons with mental illness shall be entitled to the use of ambulance services in the same manner, extent and quality as provided to persons with physical illness.’

Dr Soumitra Pathare, Consultant Psychiatrist and Director Centre for Mental Law and Policy, tweeted, saying, “It’s a shame that such a letter had to be written by the health ministry. But, it is also great that a letter has been sent to all the states and union territories. Pleased to see that the Health Ministry is aware of their obligations under Mental Healthcare Act proactive on rights to a person with mental illness.”

One in 20 people in India are suffering from mental illness, the Lok Sabha has informed. A number of people have also spoken about their struggles with depression.

It is the right of patients with mental illnesses to be granted the same equal services as people with physical conditions.

Dr Jawahar Singh, Vice President, Resident doctors Association, AIIMS said, “Mental illness should be treated as a physical illness. People should not discriminate with a patient who is suffering from a psychiatric emergency.”

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act as we cope with life. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. But, deteriorating mental health is a severe issue in the country.

While speaking to My Medical Mantra Dr Milan Balkrishnan, a Mumbai based Psychiatrist opined, “There should not be any discrimination when it comes to the right of ambulance services for the patients with mental illness. The decision taken by the health ministry is welcomed. We need to make sure that patients with mental illness get ambulances in an emergency.”

He added, “We also have to look at how care has been taken by the staff and the doctor present in an ambulance. Trained personnel have to be deployed so that they can take good care of the patient. Otherwise, it can harm more than doing good to the patient.”