Federation of Unions of SA members march to Parliament to call for remedial action over a spate of attacks on emergency workers while they carry out their duties. Picture: Cindy Waxa/ANA
About 100 emergency medical services personnel made their way to Parliament yesterday to submit grievances relating to their safety and working conditions, while just 25km away the provincial Health Department announced that paramedics would be provided with panic buttons.

When the panic buttons are activated, ambulance dispatchers are alerted and the vehicle tracked, allowing information to be passed on to law enforcement agencies for quick action.

Headed by the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) and supported by residents, train drivers and paramedics, those at Parliament demanded urgent participation of the military health personnel to accompany EMS in crime hot spots during the festive season.

The demands follow 60 attacks on paramedics in the province this year alone, and a record of more than 100 last year.

From January to October this year, 29 paramedics had taken stress leave following a spate of attacks. In the most recent incident, an eight-year-old boy died after armed robbers attacked the ambulance he was being transported in on the N2 alongside Nyanga.

In these incidents, paramedics were most likely to be robbed, threatened with a gun, assaulted or have their ambulance stoned, Fedusa secretary-general Dennis George said outside Parliament.

“The presence of the military, the police and the reinstatement of the railway police will send out a clear signal of the government’s commitment to service delivery.”

He said the urgent military participation would ensure “any efforts of violent attacks are diluted, while allowing EMS to render an improved and efficient service to the community, through further assistance by the military personnel”.

In the EMS control centre at the Tygerberg Hospital premises, Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said as part of the festive-season safety plan, a team of EMS personnel would be placed in the City of Cape Town’s Transport Management Centre to monitor the “red zones” and alert the ambulances when entering a crime hot spot.

She said there had also been a greater engagement between the Health Department and anti-crime initiatives linked to CCTV footage. 

“It is critical to get the right medical teams to the right place, quickly. When you’re providing emergency medical care to this many patients, efficiency is crucial, while also balancing the person-centred care approach and staff safety,” said Mbombo.

Those at Parliament demanded improvement in security when they are on duty. Public Servants Association of SA deputy secretary-general Tahir Maepa said it was always “impossible to serve the public when we are attacked”.

“Calling for the army is an emergency,” he said.

United National Transport Union organiser Nkosinathi Benca said: “We want the robberies to come to an end. How can sufficient services be provided when there are lives at risk?”

Department of Labour provincial chief inspector David Esau, who accepted the memorandum, said: “We are committed to working with them to solve these issues.”