Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk yesterday clarified that aircraft A5-BHS helicopter has been undergoing scheduled maintenance since November 11 and is not grounded for repair as claimed by the opposition member.

Health minister was responding to Dramedtse-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi during the question-answer session. He said helicopter has to undergo scheduled maintenance at an interval of 600 hours, 800 hours, and 1,200 hours after operation.

“The aircraft A5-BHS has completed 600 hours and it has been undergoing scheduled maintenance, which is scheduled to complete end of the month,” Lyonpo said. “The Royal Bhutan Helicopter Service Limited is carrying out the mandatory maintenance to keep it functional. We cannot relate such maintenance to economic loss.”

Ugyen Wangdi said although the services are useful for patients, mostly the cabinet members have used the helicopter and that one of the two helicopters was grounded for repair works for almost a week.

“Could the minister inform us on the cost implications to the government when helicopters are not in use for a long time?” he asked.

MP also added that government had procured the helicopters despite strong opposition given the cost involved (Nu 480 Million).

Lyonpo said the total cost of the helicopters was around USD 3.65 million, which translates to approximately Nu 237M each.

“The helicopters have benefitted the patients greatly. Not only to a few, as the Opposition member has claimed,” Lyonpo said, adding that the helicopter had rescued 276 patients as of November 27. Cabinet members have used the helicopters 21 times to date.”

The minister explained that Cabinet members used 60 percent of the total services from 2015 to date. Use by private individuals and tourists account for 40 percent.

“We had used only for important events, for emergency or when the disaster occurred and during the VIP visits,” Lyonpo said.

Meanwhile, North Thimphu MP, Tshering, asked health minister what is ministry doing to allow helicopter to airlift patient escort along with the patient, which is not allowed at present.

In response, Lyonpo said there are three levels of urgency. Priorities one and two involve life-threatening emergencies and urgent medical transfer, which require medical teams with nurse and doctor.

Lyonpo said that according to the standard operation procedure, priorities one and two require some invasive and constant advanced life support to patients, which is similar to the operating theatre.

“So, there is no space for attendant for patient’s safety. But if the situation permits, they allow the attendant,” Lyonpo said. “The priority three allows one patient attendant due to geographical isolation.”

Lyonpo said that considering the importance, the ministry would conduct a consultative meeting in December to study the guidelines on use of helicopters for medical emergencies to provide better services.

Yangchen C Rinzin