Cape Town - The brave men and women from the province’s emergency medical services, under constant attack from criminals for trying to save lives, are increasingly looking to relocate to other provinces, because of the trauma of working in the Western Cape.
Such is the exodus that the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) Western Cape provincial secretary Baxolise Mali said EMS staff in the metro were looking to leave due to the continual violence they experienced, with an increase in Western Cape EMS employees leaving for other provinces.
“Incidents are reported to labour on a quarterly basis to the bargaining chamber. It is reported on a monthly basis to the labour level of the institution. The common form of attacks are gun-pointing, hijacking, robbery and verbal abuse,” Mali said.
He said EMS staff can be better protected through regular surveillance of red zones (dangerous areas), reporting of crime, and compulsory police escorts in areas with high criminality.
“EMS management should work closely with community organisations like neighbour watches, safety patrols and civic organisations to bring awareness of the difficulties in EMS employees carrying out their duties.”
SACP Western Cape provincial secretary Benson Ngqentsu said the party condemned the “targeted attacks” on EMS personnel and called on the provincial health and wellness department to provide protection to the staff.
“The implications of the attack on the EMS will lead to the ambulances’ inability to reach patients on time and save people’s life. There are other sections of workers who face the similar challenges … such as stormwater workers from the City and Eskom workers,” Ngqentsu said.
Trauma counsellor Haneem Smith said overwhelming anxiety and insomnia were some of the challenges highlighted by patients she had treated.
“When the trauma is not treated, when it’s not taken seriously, people are finding all sorts of coping mechanisms including substance abuse or internalising how they are feeling, and becoming frustrated and angry.
“Often they lose contact with family and friends and isolate themselves. They stop practising self-care, but then still having to go out and do the jobs that they do,” Smith said.
The stigma and bullying attached to seeking support and a debriefing done should be eradicated, she said.
EMS spokesperson Deanna February said staff have been requesting transfers to other provinces, with the majority of requests, however, motivated to be closer to their families.
February said the service has not had any transfer requests specifically due to attacks on staff.
“Staff will exit the services for a myriad reasons, but none has cited the staff attacks as one of them. The exits consist of retirements, resignations, absconding and dismissals,” she said.
During the 2021/22 year, there were 68 exits and as of April 1 to date there were 11.
In April, four attacks were reported and in May, six. From January to date there have been 15 assaults on EMS staff.
“The nature of the assaults ranges from theft, threatening behaviour,hijacking and damage to vehicles or EMS facilities,” February said.
Although most attacks do not result in serious physical injuries, essential health services are often disrupted.
“EMS officials are not allowed to enter any permanent or temporary red zone areas without a police escort. Various partners such as neighbourhood watches and community groups have partnered with us, and form part of our whole-of-society approach,” February said.