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Bankrupt Romania Puts Taxi Meters in Ambulances

Health authorities in parts of Romania have started fitting ambulances with taxi meters because of a shortage of cash. People who are dead or in a coma are exempt. John Howard reports.

The ambulances have been fitted with the meters, identical to the ones used in local taxis, so that ambulance crews know how much to charge patients taken to hospital. They even use the same tariff's as taxi firms.

Villagers around Sfitu Gheorghe are among those protesting against the arrangement.

"Who wants to get into one of their old ambulances when you can get a taxi for the same price," said Dina Petrescu aged 54. "Often they collect several patients before going to hospital, even if you are really ill."

But charges do not stop with the ambulances. Patients must pay the doctor in the ambulance a fee, and then pay for emergency treatment.

The hospital says that without the charges, it could not afford to provide services.

Ambulance officer Ion Tulcei said: "It's amazing how quickly some people recover when they find out they have to pay."

"One women in her 70's with severe gout got up and walked off when we told her she'd have to pay the fare," he said.

Human rights people are outraged that a 70 year-old was not transported and say the women crawled off crying in pain. She did not walk off and she couldn't afford the fare.


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