It’s “cheeky” that private emergency services may now have to pay the controversial e-tolls to get to accident scenes or risk lives by delays on response times using alternative routes, according to several private health organisations.
Under the proposed e-tolling regulations, published for comment last week in the Government Gazette, only emergency vehicles belonging to the Gauteng provincial government, the City of Joburg, the City of Tshwane and Ekurhuleni are automatically exempt from paying e-tolls when the system comes into effect.
But private emergency services, who spoke to the Saturday Star this week, raised fears that should the regulations become law, they will have to apply for exemption status and if this is denied, face the prospect of “paying to get to accident scenes”.
Some said they had been trying to negotiate with Sanral for exemption under the draft regulations to no avail.
“At this stage, ER24 and/or other private emergency services are not exempt from the e-tolls,” said Werner Vermaak, of ER24. “It goes without saying that it will be an expensive exercise for private services as a lot of our emergency vehicles use the highway and e-toll routes to gain access to patients quickly.”
Bernard Segal, the operations director of Hatzolah Medical Rescue, told the Saturday Star: “It’s quite a cheek that emergency services that the whole of Gauteng relies on are having to pay (e-tolls), or if they refuse to pay, they must use alternative routes that cost time or lives.”
Jack Bloom, the DA’s Gauteng Health spokesman, said: “We have an appalling public ambulance service. Private ambulances are assisting a lot of non-paying patients. Now with e-tolls, unless they (private ambulances) can get exemption, it will add to their costs, which is everybody’s costs.”
An emergency healthcare specialist, who did not want to be identified, added that it was private ambulances who typically responded to most accident scenes. “How many active ambulances does Gauteng have? We’re lucky if there’s 30.”
Netcare did not want to publicly discuss the matter this week. However, its 2011 annual report revealed it spent R11 million on pro bono health services through pre-hospital Netcare 911 emergency services.
“Netcare provided free assistance to more than 6 400 indigent patients during the year. Accident and emergency units at Netcare hospitals continue to provide emergency care and stabilisation for patients with life-threatening conditions who are unable to pay for these services.
“Following resuscitation, stabilisation and in many cases, definitive care, patients are referred to a provincial facility. Patients who are too unstable to be moved are admitted to Netcare facilities.
“Due to the lack of beds at state facilities, many of these patients are cared for in Netcare facilities until transfer or discharge,” the company stated.
Segal said the non-profit service was engaged in verbal correspondence with Sanral. “Sanral has told us we must create an account first and register all our vehicles.
“We have six ambulances, one advanced life support car and a lot of our responders have their own response vehicles. We have to register all those 60 vehicles under one account and apply for exemption. We will petition for exemption, but at the end of the day, if we have to pay, we have to pay.”
Sanral yesterday referred the Saturday Star’s queries to the gazette. Bloom added: “The general problem with e-tolling is that it is administratively complex and it seems exemptions are no different. Those who apply for exemptions may not get them.
“Exemptions are also contentious. People will claim they should be exempt but they’re not. I think the system of exemptions is one of those issues that if they do go ahead with e-tolling, will have to be clarified.”