Durban - Almost a third of provincial ambulances were not operating in KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday as paramedics stayed at home or embarked on a go-slow.
The apparent protest action on overtime gripes began on Monday and was expected to continue today. Private emergency service providers have been drafted in to help.
On Monday, about 40 Emergency Medical Rescue Services (EMRS) personnel in the uMgungundlovu District, which includes the Pietermaritzburg region did not report for work.
Provincial health spokesman, Desmond Motha, dismissed talk of a strike earlier this week, but admitted staff had been staying away in uMgungundlovu.
“We are not aware of a strike by the emergency medical services staff as no labour union within the department has declared a dispute,” Motha said.
“We have noted with concern that on Monday some staff reported sick and others requested family responsibility leave.”
Motha admitted this posed a threat to service delivery and that the department had swiftly activated contingency plans to ensure adequate service was provided.
A well-placed EMRS source said on Thursday that some emergency workers had embarked on a “go-slow” on Monday because of unhappiness over overtime. He said they had not been paid overtime for four months.
While some staff in the uMgungundlovu area had arrived at work, they were “refusing to do cases”, the source said, confirming that many had booked off sick or taken family responsibility leave.
About 14 EMRS ambulances should have been on the road in the area, but none was operational on Thursday. “In KZN, out of about 180 ambulances, there were only 127 operating today (Thursday),” the source said, adding that EMRS personnel from other districts and private emergency services were filling in the breach in Pietermaritzburg. Private emergency services provider ER24 confirmed they had been called in to assist.
“There was a large overflow of call volume from Monday by EMRS and we have been extremely busy helping them,” ER24’s Pietermaritzburg operations manager, Paul Knoesen, said on Thursday.
“Every call has to be treated as urgent because they generally deal with patients with serious issues. We have been assisting with inter-hospital treatment as well - these are patients who are seriously ill and need to be transported from one hospital to another.”
Knoesen said ER24’s resources had been stretched to the maximum this week because they also had to deploy staff to oversee the Sani2C mountain bike race from Underberg to Scottburgh.
“In Pietermaritzburg we were dealing with about 30 patients per 24-hour shift,” he said. ‘
ER24 were on standby on Friday.