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Durban - Health
MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo’s apparent refusal to account for his use of an emergency medical rescue helicopter that paramedics needed for a Durban accident victim has prompted lawmakers to demand answers from him.
Dhlomo has been criticised by relatives of 15-year-old Asheen Maharaj, who is fighting for his life in Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital, because they said he could not get airlifted to hospital.
The teen, declared brain dead, lost his parents, Ashwin and Ashnee Maharaj, and his 19-year-old sister, Asheena, in a car crash in Pinetown on November 3. The family had been on their way to visit relatives in Phoenix.
On Sunday, Dhlomo said he did not want to speak about the matter and referred the Daily News to his spokesman Desmond Motha, who sought to shift any blame for the furore on to paramedics who had attended the accident scene.
When asked why Dhlomo was using the helicopter, Motha said the ministry did not disclose the MEC’s schedule.
But he said Dhlomo and the helicopter pilot – both doctors – were not aware of the accident. Had they been informed, they would have responded to the call, said Motha.
The MEC was using one of two state-leased emergency medical rescue helicopters at the time – the one that is based in Durban. The second helicopter, based in Richards Bay, was an hour away at the time of the crash, an unnamed paramedic had told Independent Newspapers.
“An airborne helicopter was available and 17 minutes away from the accident, but the EMRS [Emergency Medical Rescue Services] paramedics told it to stand down. If the pilot had got to know about the accident, he would have responded,” he said.
“Dr Dhlomo has in the past stopped at accident scenes to help victims while en route to fulfil his official duties.”
Motha said paramedics had advanced life support teams and were trained to deal with a medical situation.
“The MEC has full use of the helicopters and aircraft. This incident has nothing to do with the him [Dhlomo] and has everything to do with the paramedics at the scene.”
Opposition political parties said on Sunday they would seek answers from Dhlomo at a provincial health portfolio committee meeting on Tuesday.
The IFP said it would be calling for the MEC’s logbook and itinerary for Saturday, November 3, and wanted to know why he was using a government medical helicopter when he had a driver in his employ.
The party’s spokeswoman on health Dr Usha Roopnarain, said: “The MEC keeps telling us there are adequate rescue vehicles. We will pose questions to him on Tuesday.”
The DA said it would be calling for the rules on MECs using medical helicopters, which, they felt, should be reserved for emergencies.
Makhosazana Mdlalose, the DA’s health spokeswoman, said MPLs had already started drafting questions to the MEC.
“There has to be an explanation,” she said.
DA MPL Mark Steele said last night the refusal by Dhlomo to give reasons for why he was using Durban’s only medical helicopter was “unacceptable”.
“The DA demands that the MEC make an urgent statement to the KZN legislature explaining what emergency he needed the helicopter for. If this is not done within 24 hours the DA will take further action to get to the truth,” he said in a statement. “Power abuse cannot go unchecked when the damage to the lives of ordinary people is so great.”
Steele said the party would not stop pushing for answers “until someone takes responsibility for this horrific tragedy”.
An EMRS paramedic, who did not want to be named, said Dhlomo should not be allowed exclusive use of the emergency rescue helicopters unless it was for public work.