The Democratic Alliance‘s (DA) KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson on health, Dr Imran Keeka, has made a call on the province’s new health MEC to urgently implement measures to safeguard paramedics following an attack that left two emergency services personnel hospitalised.
According to an IoL report, KZN Health Department had reported earlier that two paramedics were robbed and shot in the early hours of Wednesday morning last week following what appeared to be a fake emergency call luring them to the Inanda area of Durban. The paramedics, from the provincial Emergency Medical Services (EMS), received a phone call around 3am and responded to what they thought was an emergency maternity case. They were directed by a guide to the alleged scene of the emergency and were then robbed and shot. One paramedic sustained a gunshot wound to the back and the other to the wrist. A cellphone was stolen.
According to the report, KZN Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu described the incident as “sad and barbaric”. She called on communities to work with law enforcement authorities to bring the culprits to book.
Keeka said the DA was “appalled” by the incident, adding that over the past few years, there had been several such attacks, with the issue reaching crisis point last year. He said Simelane-Zulu needed to seriously implement the DA’s proposals to mitigate attacks on emergency services personnel. These included dash-cams being fitted on ambulances, emergency response vehicles being fitted with smash-and-grab equipment, self-defence training for paramedics, and police escorts for ambulances responding to provincial hot spots.
“These proposals were ignored by former KZN Health MEC, Sibongiseni Dhlomo. It is now incumbent on MEC Simelane-Zulu to consider them as a matter of urgency,” said Keeka.
It is alleged that the two had responded to a maternity case call-out on Wednesday morning, just after 3am, when they were met by a man who was meant to take them to the pregnant woman. The Mercury reports that the man got into the back of the vehicle and led the crew down a dirt road. He then produced a firearm and demanded the paramedics’ valuables. A scuffle ensued and the man shot one of the medics in the back, while the female medic was shot in the wrist. The medics flagged down a police van which was patrolling the area and were able to get assistance.
Simelane-Zulu said: “When incidents such as these occur, you really start to ask yourself questions. How can you tell if a call is about a real emergency? And what will happen if we stop responding to emergency calls at night? People will die because this is an essential service.”
IFP spokesperson for health in KZN Ncamisile Nkwanyana called for law enforcement officials to escort paramedics to scenes in high-risk areas. “The MEC must find a way to protect emergency service workers from violent crime. It is unacceptable that paramedics are expected to work in these conditions while the department fails to take action,” she said.
According to the report, the president of the South African Emergency Personnel Union, Mpho Mpogeng, said paramedics should arm themselves. “We are calling for paramedics to protect themselves. It is clear that we are on our own here, so we are calling for paramedics to arm themselves. We know that every time we make this call there are some people who complain about it,” he said.
Mpogeng said health departments were failing to protect paramedics. “We do not want to play a blame game, but we have been saying for a while that EMS staff are under siege. All the department does is pass condolences and does nothing afterwards,” he said.
However, Adéle Kirsten of Gun Free SA (GFSA) said in the report that giving a paramedic a firearm could make the situation worse. She said there was a need to address the root causes of such attacks. “In most cases, these attacks are carried out by people who want the medication that ambulances have. Handing a paramedic a firearm is a knee-jerk reaction. Rather, there should be other ways of protecting medics, such as by sending them for self-defence classes.”
Kirsten said GFSA also supported the idea of getting police or private security companies to escort ambulance crews to known hot spots.
The report says police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele confirmed that police were investigating charges of attempted murder and robbery.