Johannesburg - It's an uncomfortable, less often told story that hits its victims on the brink of life and death.
Gauteng ambulance response times were highlighted this week with the passing of kwaito superstar Mduduzi "Mandoza" Tshabalala.
Tshabalala's manager Kevin Ntaopane alleged that his family had waited three hours for an ambulance to fetch the now late musician from his Soweto home. The ambulance never arrived.
On Wednesday, DA MPL Jack Bloom revealed that according to the Gauteng Health Department's first quarter report, tabled recently at the Gauteng legislature and covering the April to June period, officially recorded ambulance response times in the province had become significantly longer. They plummeted from 77 percent of all Priority 1 calls responded to within 15 minutes in urban areas last year to 54 percent this year.
According to the department, "a large majority of P1 calls are delayed due to location of dispatch points in relation to pick-up points, and districts such as the City of Joburg, City of Tshwane and Sedibeng are often affected".
"The ongoing challenges of staff and vehicle shortages also impact on response times."
But only R199 million of the R1.2 billion emergency medical services budget for 2016/17 had been spent by the end of June.
"I am very concerned about the poor ambulance response times in Gauteng and the shortage of working ambulances, even though the budget is typically underspent.
"This leads to tragedies like the ambulance that did not arrive to pick up the late Mandoza in Soweto three hours after it was called," Bloom said.
Hid statements were backed by the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa), which said: "The stories of delayed ambulances get told at most funerals of patients, which unfortunately hardly get media attention.
"Many patients have long given up calling ambulances in emergencies, because of bad previous experiences with delays. The shortage of resources in our facilities often leads to unnecessary deaths of patients, and Denosa has been crying about this issue for years."
The organisation said the news that Mandoza's family waited three hours for an ambulance highlighted an "embarrassingly grey area" and a "glaring weakness" in the public healthcare system.
Bloom also placed some responsibility in the hands of the DA, saying the new DA-run municipalities in Gauteng would need to work with the provincial Health Department to ensure that ambulances reach 80 percent of all Priority 1 emergency patients within 15 minutes, which was the world-class standard.