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MEC slates call for ambulance crews to carry firearms during holidays

A standoff has developed between an emergency workers’ union and the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) over a controversial call for crews to arms themselves when attending to incidents during the festive season.
The SA Emergency Personnel Union made the call this week for ambulance crews on duty to arm and protect themselves on the eve of one of the busiest weekends of the year.
The Emergency Care Board, under the ambit of the Health Professions Council, distanced itself from the union’s call and warned that the arming of crew members would cause confusion and could put their lives in even more danger.
Health MEC Helen Sauls-August also criticised what she termed the irresponsible statement made by the union.
However, the president of the emergency personnel union, Mpho Mpogeng, said it was not calling for ambulance crews to “randomly start shooting at people”.
“We say arm yourselves and protect yourself, your ambulance, your equipment and your patient,” he said.
“Those people at the Health Professions Council are very cruel. They sit in their boardrooms and judge our people who are attacked [daily].
“They just ignore the brutality and issue statements condemning the attacks on the ambulances but they do nothing to help us.
“We have said enough is enough. We came to realise that nothing is being done.
“They can distance themselves from us all they want.
“They must stop attacking us – the criminals are already attacking us,” he said.
Since January, no fewer than 15 ambulances have been attacked in Nelson Mandela Bay.
A senior member of the union based in the metro, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “The other day the criminals attacked two ambulances. They robbed the crews and then they also robbed the patients.
“Nobody is safe. They are even robbing the sick and the dying,” she said.
In July, Sauls-August said her department was engaging private security firms to protect medics in hotspot areas and was investigating the cost of fitting ambulances with panic buttons and dashboard cameras.
However, her spokesperson, Lwandile Sicwetsha, admitted no security firms had been deployed to protect Nelson Mandela Bay ambulances.
According to the department’s statistics, the number of attacks on ambulances in the Bay had escalated from four in the first six months of the year to 15 by Friday.
During these attacks ambulances were petrol-bombed and dented, windows were broken and crews and patients were robbed.
“Nothing is being done to help improve our safety,” the union leader said.
“We are aware that arming ourselves will cause problems – but we have been left with no other choice.”
She said cameras mounted inside the ambulances only protected the vehicles and not the crews.
“It won’t save anyone in a robbery.
“We have told our members that we are calling for them to arm themselves with legal firearms. We are not advocating for illegal guns,” she said.
“The criminals know we are not armed so we have to do whatever they ask. We don’t have to shoot them but at least in this way we are on a level playing field,” she said.
Emergency Care Board chair Lesiba Malotana said: “The safety of emergency care practitioners has been in the spotlight and is of grave concern . . .
“This is resulting from the spiralling increase in the attacks on such practitioners while they are on duty across the country.
“Emergency care practitioners put their lives at risk every day to provide a service to comcommunities that emergency care practitioners have an obligation to also act as peacekeeping or law enforcement agencies while on duty”.
“If practitioners are allowed to carry firearms, this may have unintended consequences and will further expose practitioners and increase their chances of being victims of crime,” Malotana said.
Sauls-August said she condemned the “irresponsible” public statement by the union calling for ambulance workers to carry guns while on duty.
“The department is totally against the carrying of dangerous weapons in the workplace because it poses a threat to patients’ safety and wellbeing.
“The department is already working with law enforcement agencies and community policing forums to ensure maximum safety and protection of ambulances when responding to emergency calls.”

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