The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health is exploring ways to accelerate the conversion of new vans into ambulances.
Health MEC, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, speaking at the dispatch of 22 new ambulances into the province, said
the department was looking at speeding up the fitting of new ambulances, from nine to three months.
“The process of converting a car shell into an ambulance is a very lengthy process and one that I think we need to revisit,” he said.
One way of shortening the period could be taking the equipment from old ambulances and fitting it into the new vehicles.
“We just have to manage the cycle of getting them in and out without lengthy waiting periods.”
Speaking at Wentworth Hospital, where the department distributed 22 new Toyota Land Cruiser ambulances to various KZN districts yesterday, health spokesman, Sam Mkhwanazi, rejected a report that new ambulances were not being used.
They were merely waiting to be fitted with communication and other devices before they were fit for use.
The department was not letting scores of new ambulances lie idle when there was a huge demand for them.
The Mercury reported last week that the department had spent about R180 million buying 386 new vehicles, but had kept them in a fenced ground near Wentworth Hospital.
The newspaper said it visited the field last year and it was packed with vehicles. The field was visited again last week, and it was still full of parked vehicles.
Mkhwanazi said: “It does not make sense why anyone would spend a lot of money on something and not utilise it.
“There will never be a time when one comes to Wentworth Hospital and does not find ambulances parked here. And there is a reason
Mkhwanazi said that before they were converted into ambulances, the vehicles are sent for branding.
“Once that has been done, we have to place an advert for tender applications for fittings that will go inside the ambulances, which include the communication devices and other equipment,” he said.
“This process takes time until it’s approved because there is also a period where there can be objections to a company being awarded a tender.”
Until the objections or legal issues were resolved, the department could not do anything, he said.
“What people see at Wentworth Hospital are branded ambulance shells waiting to be equipped, old ambulances and a pool of new fitted ambulances to replace those involved in accidents or old ones,” he said. “This where they are born and where they die.”
After an ambulance reached a mileage of 250 000km, it was replaced by one in the pool, Mkhwanazi said.
The province has 290 ambulances operating at any given time: 212 for emergencies, 40 for obstetrics and 38 for transporting patients from one hospital to another.
The 22 new ambulances distributed yesterday would go to nine districts, from Amajuba to Zululand. One ambulance has also been allocated to the College of Emergency Care.