With just 300 ambulances (of 1,221) on Gauteng’s roads, the province falls far short of meeting the national standards for emergency vehicles. This is compounded by staff shortages and attacks on paramedics, all of which add to poor service delivery.
Despite the procurement of 220 ambulances and the hiring of 160 Emergency Medical Services (EMS) recruits, Kwara Kekana, spokesperson for the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH), told Daily Maverick insufficient staff and budget limitations “on human capacitation in the sector that limit rapid growth” also affect response times.
Regarding the ambulance problem, Kekana said there should be at least 1,795 ambulances across 57 EMS stations, “but currently we have 1,221 ambulances”.
“This is below the national norm for Gauteng that stipulates we should have 1,632 (as per population ratio 1:10,000 [meaning one ambulance per 10,000 population]) plus a buffer of 10% of 163, implying we should have 1,795. Operational ambulances are 1,081; however, with the current staff capacity, we can only roster 300 ambulances daily in the province,” she said.
She said the dispatch centre ensures all life-threatening calls (P1 calls) are serviced immediately, and all other calls (P2 and P3) fall in line for the next available resource.
The targeted response times and how often these targets are met by the GDoH are as follows:
• 54% of P1 calls in urban areas are responded to within a targeted 30 minutes;
• 83% of P1 calls in rural areas are responded to within a targeted 60 minutes; and
• 92% of all calls (P1, P2 and P3) are responded to within a targeted 60 minutes.
However, the DA’s Jack Bloom said: “The initial average response time for an ambulance used to be 15 minutes and with regards to life-threatening calls, the international standard is seven minutes.
A Gauteng paramedic confirmed the low staffing levels in the ambulance sector, saying staff were under strain and could not cover all emergencies because they have to prioritise life-threatening conditions. “The Gauteng Department of Health needs to hire more EMS personnel but also do much (more) to protect us from attacks,” he added.
Kekana denied that the ambulance sector was in a crisis.
“It’s not just ambulances, it’s staffed ambulances. The norm is one ambulance needs 10 staff, with a minimum (of an) intermediate life support qualification. The further breakdown of the ratio is two staff per shift (in a four-shift system), and two staff for leave and training.”
See more from MedicalBrief archives: