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It's 'too expensive' to protect EMS staff

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Cape Town – Western Cape Community Safety MEC Dan Plato has done an about-turn on his promise to provide private security to escort EMS (Emergency Medical Services) staff responding to medical emergencies in “red zones” .

This decision came after Plato was quoted on the TV programme Carte Blanche, saying that he would set up Safety Kiosks manned by private security and neighbourhood watch members to escort EMS staff who have been under attack in dangerous areas, or “red zones”. Plato now says it will be too expensive and he was in talks with various stakeholders on possible ways to protect EMS staff.

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GONE: An ambulance stripped of its equipment in an attack while paramedics were attending to a scene, last year.

He said hiring of private security guards would be costly and his department was coming up with ideas from his responsibilities as oversight officer for policing in the province.

“We will have meetings where I will take a lead and look at all issues of safety regarding paramedics before a decision is made,” Plato said on Tuesday.

At a community meeting in Kalksteenfontein, residents heard that families of casualties, living in the declared “red zone” area, will bear the responsibility of transporting patients to a local police station should Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel not get a police escort.

This was according to Lorraine Botha, chairperson of the standing committee on community development in the provincial legislature. From 2012 to 2016 there had been 231 attacks on paramedics and eight in 2017.

There have been 239 attacks on government paramedic vehicles since 2012

On Tuesday, Botha and EMS operations manager Phumzile Papu attended the meeting in Kalksteenfontein, one of the “red zone areas”, to discuss the safety of EMS personnel in the area.

“The mandate of police is not escorting but crime prevention. In Kalksteenfontein we still rely on police to escort, but if there no resource, it is the responsibility of the family to bring that person to the police station to wait for help,” she said.

Botha realised that this was not an ideal situation, but said the safety of paramedics was a priority. Kalksteenfontein is among the 10 “red zone areas”. The Northern Metro area has a record of 49 incidents of attacks on provincial paramedics.

Khayelitsha in the Eastern Metro has 20 recorded incidents, Mitchell's Plain in the Southern Metro has 85 incidents and the Western Metro which includes Hanover Park has recorded 45 incidents.

Most of the attacks occur from 8pm to 3am during weekends.

“While police are on the scene nothing happens, but once police leave and paramedics are stabilising the patient, the attacks occur," said Botha. "Now police will have to wait until paramedics are done stabilising the patient before leaving the scene.”

Papu said the Western Cape was losing skilled EMS staff to other provinces.

He said they had missed 5 148 days of man-hours in 2016 due to absenteeism because of safety concerns. He said 214 ambulance vehicles were taken off the roads which meant there are now fewer vans in operation.

“Two of our staff members were booked sick for nine months due to the trauma they experienced while on the job.

“We are losing skilled staff with higher qualifications to other ‘peaceful’ provinces. We have 91 staff who left the job last year; some were fired, others resigned, but a large percentage of them left because of safety issues.

“We maintain that no EMS staff will enter a 'red area zone' without a police escort. We even tell callers that there could be a delay due to this,” said Papu.

Graham Lindhorst, chairperson of the Community Police Forum (CPF) for Bishop Lavis, which includes Kalksteenfontein, said the community would help protect EMS, but said the community was not informed of the “red zone” declaration.

“We have a lack of police resources in the area as it is.

“So this means that people in our community who have no medical aid, no cars nor money will have to walk with a sick person to the police station to wait on immediate medical attention.”

Lindhorst said the community has created neighbourhood watch groups which will patrol areas and will escort paramedics.

“Our crime stats don’t show reason to declare this area a ‘red zone’. Government needs to engage and communicate with communities,” he said.

The next public meeting on this matter will be held in Khayelitsha next Tuesday.

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