Emergency oxygen ‘crisis’ overblown: provincial health

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The DA’s claim of an oxygen crisis at Emergency Medical and Rescue Services (EMRS) bases in KwaZulu-Natal was nothing but hot air, according to the KZN Department of Health.

It dismissed the “alarmist allegations”, but admitted some provincial health facilities were experiencing a shortage of oxygen, due to a change in supplier.

An EMRS manager, who did not want to be named, confirmed the shortage and said the new contract was awarded to Air Liquide, which had “significantly” underestimated the demand for oxygen. He said some districts had had to travel to Durban for oxygen supplies.

The DA said emergency staff reported on Wednesday that there had been no deliveries of oxygen cylinders to EMRS bases in KZN.

Some EMRS bases also confirmed the shortage, saying they had had to borrow cylinders from neighbouring bases.

DA provincial leader Sizwe Mchunu said they were calling on Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo to give the legislature a full briefing on the “crisis”.

He said an investigation by the party had shown there had been no deliveries to the emergency bases for the past two weeks after the health department opted not to renew the supply contract and failed to appoint a new service provider.

Mchunu said EMRS staff had told the DA that many bases in KZN were operating on reserves, while some had run out of stock.

“Oxygen is vital for their profession and no trauma victim can be resuscitated without it,” he said.

Mchunu suggested Dhlomo call on private ambulance services to assist.

He said he was drafting a letter to the MEC asking him to address the legislature on the matter.

Provincial health spokes-man, Sam Mkhwanazi, and the Health MEC’s spokesman, Desmond Motha, confirmed that Air Liquide was the national supplier of oxygen to government hospitals and EMRS bases.

Air Liquide’s spokeswoman, Elana Pienaar, confirmed that the company supplied oxygen to KZN bases but referred media enquiries to the Treasury’s contract management division.

Motha said there was no crisis in KZN and that “not a single ambulance has left the base without oxygen”.

Mkhwanazi said they “noted with concern alarmist allegations by the DA”.

He said the department had changed a supplier, which had resulted in, among other things, “challenges regarding the required supplies”.

Mkhwanazi said that in the event of a crisis the department had contingency plans.

In addressing the challenges, he said the department was working with the National Treasury to ensure the department did not “experience shortages of oxygen that might negatively impact on service delivery”.

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