Bay has only 38 ambulances

Service hamstrung by lack of vehicles and staff, but shortcomings being addressed

A crippling shortage of vehicles and staff, several attacks on ambulances, high levels of crime involving firearms, and close to 700 vehicle accidents are slowing down ambulance response times in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Emergency Medical Services Bay district manager Brenhan Metune said in the service’s quarterly review that, despite these factors, it still managed to respond within 15 minutes to high-priority cases 61.3% of the time and within an hour in 91.5% of cases.

“The hijacking of EMS personnel has affected our response times as our people are now reluctant to enter certain areas,” he said.

“Those who have been attacked are either off with post-traumatic stress disorder or are working in alternative sections.”

He said the national standard was one ambulance for every 10 000 people in a community.

“Based on [a population of] 1.2 million [in the metro], that translates to 120 ambulances with 1 200 staff [that are required],” he said.

However, at present the metro has only 38 ambulances, with between 15 and 20 on the road at any given time.

He said this was a major stumbling block in efforts to reach response time targets.

Metune said the high number of gun crimes, and the close to 700 road accidents that had been attended to from January to the middle of this month, also placed an enormous burden on the ambulance service.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition says it will be restarting a campaign for a better ambulance service for the rural parts of the province.

This, as its delegates set off this week to gather more information on failures of the EMS.

The coalition’s Fikile Boyce said it was following up on the recommendations of the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which conducted hearings last year into the shortage of ambulances in the province, and specifically in the rural parts of the province.

The commission published its findings in October, which showed the provincial Department of Health urgently needed to improve access to ambulances and patient transport.

The commission asked for a response from the department by April.

In its response, the Department of Health undertook to:

• Develop and publish a policy for ambulances and patient transport;

• Buy 141 new 4×4 vehicles;

• Establish planned patient transport desks in EMS metro centres; and

• Plan, budget and report better for emergency medical services. Boyce said the coalition feared these were “malicious promises” and that nothing had changed.

“The department cannot, as it does throughout the response, deny the findings and recommendations of the commission,” he said.

“The recommendations must be implemented or challenged.

“We are pleased the department is planning to buy 141 4×4 vehicles. We hope these will be working and in use in the areas that need 4×4 vehicles by November, as promised.”

Boyce said they would travel to the areas hardest hit by ambulance shortages to gather evidence to present to the department.

“We ask for the cases where the ambulance did not arrive [within] four hours,” he said.

Provincial health spokesman Siyanda Manana said the department had gone some way already towards addressing the shortcomings of the EMS in the province: This included:

• The promised 141 4×4 ambulances had been ordered and delivery was awaited.

• A total of 141 shift leader positions and 730 other posts had been filled;

• Talks were being held with private ambulance services to assist in areas where EMS was not available.

• All calls were screened by the call centre so that the three helicopters could also respond when required.

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