Emergency services workers are increasingly coming under violent attack from criminals, with 70 incidents in the Western Cape alone over the past year.
The national Department of Health (DoH) is being asked to urgently find a way to protect emergency service workers from violent crime. The Times reports that the alarm has been sounded by the Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa)‚ who is concerned about the safety of its members in the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in Cape Town.
A recent spate of gang and crime-related violence has led to EMS workers being threatened not only on the streets‚ but also at their bases and, the report says, Hospersa is calling on the DoH to intervene urgently.
In the most recent attack‚ at about 9.40pm last Wednesday night‚ Hospersa was alerted that two of its members were held at gunpoint in Philippi and all that their belongings and other equipment were taken away from them. This happened after earlier last week Hospersa met with senior management of the health department to discuss the “burning issue” of violence against EMS workers. The meeting was preceded by reports of various Hospersa members being robbed‚ stabbed and submitted to various kinds of violence.
“We are alarmed at the violence faced by our EMS members‚” said Hospersa Western Cape provincial secretary Marthenique Marinus. “It is unacceptable that our members are expected to work in these conditions while the Department fails to take action. One would expect that there would be greater care taken of these critical role-players in our health care system‚” she added.
During the meeting‚ Hospersa reported that in an earlier incident‚ a police escort fled the scene when gangsters opened fire‚ leaving the ambulance and crew behind to face the rain of bullets alone. “Hospersa raised the concern that we do not only need to look at those on the road but also those at the various bases. We physically checked the panic button on the MDT device and to our surprise it was not functioning at all. We raised various questions surrounding who is responsible for checking of such devices‚ but the employer failed to respond‚” reported Marinus.
“Even though we know that crime is rife in South Africa‚ we believe that employers should always go the extra mile to ensure the safety of their employees while on duty‚” said Hospersa general secretary Noel Desfontaines.
Paramedics have aired grave concern after another incident – an EMS crew were left shaken after being pelted with stones in Browns Farm, Philippi, at the weekend. According to a Cape Times report, the paramedics had loaded a patient who sustained a gunshot wound and were about to leave when they came under attack. The ambulance’s rear window was shattered, said EMS spokesperson Robert Daniels.
The report says there have been 70 incidents in the past 12 months, according to the provincial Health Department. Traumatised paramedics, who asked not to be identified, spoke of their harrowing experiences when they tried to save lives, and having to be escorted when entering gang-ridden areas. They believed crews were attacked because criminals were after the Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) device installed in ambulances. Areas such as Nyanga, Philippi and Gugulethu were regarded as dangerous, they said.
One of the paramedics involved in the latest incident said two suspects tried to force open the ambulance doors. “The driver of the ambulance pulled away, but a stone was thrown through the back window, almost hitting the crew member and the patient in the back. “The driver reported what sounded like shots when he sped away,” she said.
The report says another EMS paramedic considered a transfer to the Eastern Cape. “We feel vulnerable. People see us as targets. It is very difficult to work in such an environment. Sometimes you feel scared of entering some houses because you don’t know if you going to come out alive,” she said.