Attacks the cause of a ‘mass exodus’ of EMS officials

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The exodus of Western Cape emergency medical services (EMS) officials in response to attacks has had a negative effect on the number of ambulances that can be put on the road at any given time, and ultimately, the life-saving efforts of teams, says a report to the Western Cape provincial legislature.

The safety of emergency medical services (EMS) officials working in the province has once again been highlighted by the Western Cape Provincial Legislature’s standing committee on community development. According to a Weekend Argus report, they have been meeting with communities to try and find solutions to help curb a rising number of attacks on medics in and around the province.

A report submitted to the committee by EMS officials showed about 231 attacks on medics have been recorded from 2012 to 2016, with eight incidents recorded in 2017 alone. These attacks have been identified as the cause of the recent mass exodus of experienced medics from the profession, with many leaving the province because of the attacks.

EMS manager Pumzile Papu said at any given time there are between 20 to 50 members who are booked off for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of robberies, stoning of vehicles, or attacks on medics. This, coupled with the 91 members who have left the province in fear of attack, has had a negative effect on the number of ambulances that can be put on the road at any given time, and ultimately, the life-saving efforts of teams.

“We have and are still in the process of filling these posts but it is hard to replace some of the people that are leaving, people with over 10 years experience. We cannot substitute that level of experience with someone who has perhaps maybe a year or two,” said Papu.

The Southern Division, which operates in the Mitchells Plain, Nyanga, Philippi, Gugulethu and Manenberg, has recorded the highest number of attacks on staff with 85 incidents, the Northern with 49, and the West at 45 incidents.

Shift manager at the Lentegeur EMS base, Ismail Hendricks, said staff absence due to PTSD has put a lot of strain on the team’s abilities to respond to calls in time. “On this base alone, we currently have 12 staff members booked off for PTSD and of those, three are off for almost a year,” he said. Hendricks said the staffing issue also affect the number of calls they can respond to, as one shift rarely attends to all their calls.

“(On Wednesday) we took over 35 calls from the day shift who couldn’t get to everything before they knocked off. It meant the night crew had to attend to those before getting to theirs.” The report says this also means that if there is a priority one call, medics have to leave those cold cases to attend the emergencies, which has a trickle-down effect on response times.

Weekend Argus report

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