In the Eastern Cape, it is common for patients in rural areas to wait more than eight hours for an ambulance. Some of them die during the wait.
That’s because of the fleet of just 412 ambulances in the province, instead of the 650 required by national and international law, there are only 260 vehicles servicing the entire region, according to a statement released by the DA, reports MedicalBrief.
The reason for this is because at any given time, 150 ambulances are being repaired – and it takes 100 days to repair one that has been in an accident and 50 days to have one serviced.
These facts were revealed in response to questions set by the Health Portfolio Committee during the recent round of Budget Appropriation meetings with officials from the Health Department.
Jane Cowley, DA Eastern Cape MPL shadow MEC for health, said the impact of the desperate shortage of emergency vehicles as well as staff, was obvious: far slower turnaround times for the retrieval of critically ill patients or women in labour.
She said there were many documented cases of babies born with cerebral palsy due to birthing complications arising from delayed deliveries, and even some cases of maternal mortalities related to delayed births. Other patients have died while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
GroundUp this month reported that the Eastern Cape DoH had served more than 200 paramedics with letters of intention to dismiss them for embarking on a strike in Buffalo City, Amahlathi and Raymond Mhlaba local municipalites, demanding, among other things, fully equipped ambulances, with valid licence discs, and cellphones.
They said they also wanted electrocardiography (ECG ) monitors, batteries, spine boards, blankets, head blocks, cervical collars and baby cribs.
One of the workers, who has been a paramedic for six years, told GroundUp: “The service we offer to the public is very poor. Our ambulances have no equipment. There are no machines to check diabetes and high blood pressure. Our radios don’t function because we work in deep rural areas where there is a network problem. We use our cellphones to respond to the calls and communicate with our control room.”
Two years ago, MedicalBrief reported that staff shortages had forced the department to almost halve the number of state ambulances on the Eastern Cape roads. It blamed routine maintenance and a shortage of emergency medical workers for the cuts.
In the preceding five years, just 30 paramedics had graduated with a degree in emergency medical care from Nelson Mandela University, the only school to offer paramedic training in the province.
Cowley said the DA had repeatedly called for the Health Department to improve emergency medical services by ensuring that sufficient, well-equipped and properly manned ambulances were strategically placed across the region to prevent delays and unnecessary deaths.
The Department uses Government Fleet Management Services (GFMS) under the auspices of the Department of Transport but owes the Transport Department more than R330m for services rendered, and cannot honour this debt.
Cowley said this could be why the GFMS does not prioritise emergency vehicle repairs, but added that the slow repair and maintenance times alluded to a greater malaise – that of incompetence. Not only was this costing people their lives, but it would result in further litigation against the Health Department.
Cowley said she would write to the Eastern Cape Premier to request urgent intervention to ensure the full repair of all emergency vehicles in less than 30 days be prioritised. If this were impossible, this function should be outsourced to private enterprises that could do the repairs in a reasonable time.
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