Maggot-ridden medical waste in Eastern Cape EMS stations

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Filthy ambulances, a shortage of medical equipment and rundown bases found an investigation by The Herald into Eastern Cape Healthl Emergency Medical Services stations.

Storerooms and ambulances were found to be filthy and not cleaned regularly, medical equipment and medicine was stored in unlocked rooms along with other items such as car tyres, and medical waste lay uncollected and riddled with maggots. Frustrated employees told of how they had to work in unhygienic conditions and said their poor working conditions had affected staff morale.

The report says they have threatened to down tools if the matter is not addressed soon, which could place the lives of thousands of people who rely on state medical services at risk but provincial health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo has denied many of the allegations, accusing some staff members of trying to sabotage and tarnish the image of the department.

The report says some of the most affected stations, including those in Alice, Mdantsane, King William’s Town and Fort Beaufort, were visited and at the Alice and Mdantsane bases, stinking medical waste was found inside ambulances and overflowing from dustbins in the yards.

Paramedics complained that they had to wash ambulances themselves using unsterilised buckets and mops. They said this was not part of their job description.

Both bases were also overgrown with grass.

“We are the Department of Health but we are the first to fail to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act,” one base member, who asked not to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said. “It is not only our lives in danger but also those of the communities we are supposed to put first. We make them even sicker by transporting them in dirty ambulances every day.”

The worker said the ambulances they were using had no ventilation. “We put people at risk when we transport them in the same ambulances that have been used to transport MDR-TB (multi-drug resistant tuberculosis) patients. Our concern is that we are spreading viruses instead of helping the community.”

Other workers told of a critical shortage of medical equipment, the report said.
“There are no maternity packs – not in the ambulances and not in the medical storerooms,” another worker said. The packs contain sanitary pads, sterilisation liquid, gloves, wipes and material to wrap newborn babies in.

Paramedics at the Mdantsane ambulance base said the station was not fit for human use. According to the report, medical storeroom doubles as a mechanical store room, where tyres and broken ambulance bumpers are kept. In the same medical storeroom needles and expired drips were found.

In a separate room, undisposed used needles were found and maggots were seen crawling over a plastic bag, the report said.

The Herald report

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