DOH denies overpriced ambulance units, equipment; says probe ongoing

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 22 2021 06:50 PM

MANILA - The Department of Health (DOH) on Friday denied allegations that there were overpricing in the ambulances they bought, as well as the medical equipment that went with it. 

Sen. Panfilo Lacson alleged during a Senate Blue Ribbon hearing on Sept. 25 that the ambulances procured by the agency in 2019 were overpriced by P1 million each. One unit costs P2.5 million, he said.

This week, the senator pointed out that aside from those, there were also overpriced equipment such as automated external defibrillators (AEDs), mobile phones, dashboard cameras, and stretchers. 

But the DOH said the ambulances they bought were high end or "Type 1," and "requires higher number of equipment and training and is envisioned to provide basic life support, as compared to the other type of ambulance." 

"The ambulances were procured through a competitive bidding conducted by 17 Centers for Health and Development and 54 DOH hospitals," the agency said in a statement. 

The medical equipment required in Type 1 ambulances are also different from the regular ones or non-licensed Patient Transport Vehicles. 

Type 1 ambulances have "major equipment" in accordance with the standards set forth by Administrative Order 2018-0001, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire explained on Oct. 8.

"For overpricing to be established, the medical equipment being compared must be similar as to the brand, quantity, timelines, and quality," DOH pointed out. 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, during the Senate hearing, said P245 million was allocated for the units in 2019, and 841 units were distributed nationwide.

These were priced as follows, according to the lawmaker: 

  •  Dashboard cameras - P15,000 each. Lacson said it retails for only P4,500
  •  Automated external defibrillators - P165,000 each for Calabarzon, even if it costs around P96,500
  •  Stretchers at P23,800 each. The items, he said, were worth P21,200 each.

It was so far unclear how many items the agency bought for the said equipment, based on the lawmaker's allegations.

The agency also "submitted prices" for cellphones with sim cards in Calabarzon at P30,000 even if localities only bought the same items "with similar specifications" at P7,998, according to Lacson.

"Ang laki ng discrepancy (The discrepancy is huge)," Lacson said in the statement. 

PROBE ONGOING

As the investigation on the allegations continued, DOH assured the public that their procurement process "follows the policies, rules and regulation" and went through competitive bidding.

"There were actual savings realized on the part of the agency on this ambulance procurement. All these ambulances procured in 2019 were already fully delivered and utilized by the health facilities across the country," the statement read. 

The health department is among the key institutions being probed by Congress due to anomalous transactions at the height of the country's pandemic response. 

The Blue Ribbon panel earlier confirmed that the DOH transferred P42 billion to the Department of Budget and Management's Procurement Service without proper documents.

Senate investigations also found that a portion of the funds was used to purchase allegedly overpriced face masks and RT-PCR test kits from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.


- With a report from Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News