Four of the 11 long-awaited new ambulances have arrived and will soon be answering emergency calls, Health Minister Joseph Cassar said yesterday.

Another four would be delivered in February, followed by the remaining three by January 2014, Dr Cassar said, standing in front of the bright yellow and green Fiat ambulances outside Mater Dei Hospital’s Emergency Department.

He said the ambulances were built to allow intensive care treatment to be given to a patient on the way to hospital.

A €2.5 million tender was awarded in August, he said. The contract also includes afive-year service and maintenance agreement.

Chris Attard Montalto, director of medical equipment, said the 11 coloured ambulances would join the existing seven white ones, which are between five and nine years old.

The plan is to use the new vehicles for emergency calls and, as the others arrive, phase out the old ones for transporting patients.

Ambulance drivers and staff would be trained to use the vehicles and on-board equipment and these should start being used in January, Dr Cassar said. He added that the colour scheme – mostly bright yellow with green squares at the bottom – adhered to EU specifications. It ensured they were recognisable even at night, he added.

Jonathan Joslin, a consultant at the Emergency Department, said up to December 18 this year there had been 25,398 ambulance calls and the department predicted that 2012’s call total would exceed last year’s by about 1,500.

Ambulances had been called for 929 traffic accidents, 2,700 cardiac complications, 3,300 respiratory complications and more than 700 strokes.

Earlier this year, the state of the ambulances sparked industrial action by the Malta Union of Nurses and Midwives. The union instructed members not to board vehicles rented from a private contractor.

The action was called after it emerged that a hired ambulance deployed to Gudja after an explosion during the village feast in August broke down.

Blast victim Bjorn Callus, 25, had described his ambulance ride as “off-roading”.

The vehicle crashed into a central strip, sustained a puncture and arrived at hospital “practically on the rims”.

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