Wednesday, 17 April, 2024
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Ambulance shortage places Eastern Cape patients' lives at risk

Eastern Cape paramedics have accused the provincial Health Department of being responsible for the preventable deaths of critically ill residents by failing to provide adequate resources to save them, with barely any ambulances functioning throughout, a shortage of blankets and oxygen, and no stethoscopes, among other critical equipment.

In Peddie, emergency medical services (EMS) staff said only one of three ambulances was working yet they had to service more than 100 rural villages and towns, reports Daily Dispatch.

“And the vehicle doesn’t have enough equipment,” said one paramedic, “with no stethoscopes or equipment to treat diabetes and hypertension. We use the vehicle to transfer patients to East London and Makhanda, so then people in Peddie have to wait until it returns.”

A total of 14 staff were recently dismissed from the Peddie base as part of almost 200 let go by the department after an unprotected strike. They are still at work, pending the finalisation of the dispute.

In Qonce, only three ambulances out of six are functional.

“The vehicles are inspected by the Department of Transport annually to check if they are fully equipped, but the equipment is taken away after the inspection,” the paramedic said. They are also shortstaffed.

And in Cathcart, only one of three vehicles was still running. The paramedic said the furthest area they attend to is almost four hours away.

Last Thursday, Dikeni (Alice) paramedics could not help patients as there were no available ambulances. Private vehicles had to be used to transport patients.

Themba Bangani, a paramedic and National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) Raymond Mhlaba Municipality regional co-ordinator, said: “We have been dismissed for refusing to use ambulances that do not comply with the Health Professional Council of SA standards. Each base is supposed to have 10 fully equipped ambulances.

“But here we only have two ambulances to service 52 villages. Since Wednesday, there has been one ambulance in the whole of Raymond Mhlaba.”

Bangani said many people who could have been saved had died.

“We have referrals from Victoria Hospital to Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in East London, which sometimes takes the whole day. Villages are far apart…we take patients to Nonqubela TB Hospital, but when we come back, we have to leave the ambulance for two hours to get rid of the virus because we don’t have disinfectants…we run out of oxygen, blankets and maternity kits.”

Eastern Cape Health Department spokesperson Yonela Dekeda said the department has 447 ambulances, 137 EMS response vehicles, 33 rescue vehicles, 188 planned patient transport vehicles, 18 vehicles for EMS administration and three helicopters.

She said R57.8m had been spent on various capital items, with R45m focused on medical technology, machinery and equipment.

Dekeda said that 72-75% of ambulances were operational because high mileage and rough rural roads led to occasional breakdowns.


Daily Dispatch PressReader article – Dying for a working ambulance (Open access)


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MEC urged to intervene in ongoing Eastern Cape ambulance protests


Patients suffer as Eastern Cape ambulance crisis remains unresolved






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