More than 100 villages in the Ngqushwa area in the Eastern Cape rely on two ambulances.
This has forced the hundreds of villagers serviced by the Nompumelelo hospital to resort to hiring private vehicles to transport their loved ones needing urgent help.
“It is shocking to hear that there are few ambulances serving 118 Ngqushwa municipality villages.
“People from these villages are hiring private vehicles to transport their loved ones to Nompumelelo hospital.
People have to phone a call centre in East London when they are in need of an ambulance.
“This is disappointing,” said Zolisa Dlokovu who expressed his frustration on social media.
Thandokazi Jika from Gcinisa village said she had a distressing experience when she needed transportation to Nompumelelo hospital, which is about 35km away from her home.
After calling the emergency centre for an ambulance, she was informed that there were no available ambulances at the hospital. As a result, Jika had to arrange and pay for private transport to the hospital.
In another incident shared by Jika, she was forced to give birth at home because the ambulance did not arrive in time. It wasn’t until the following day that the ambulance finally arrived, causing further distress and inconvenience.
Nofumene Dingela, 73, from Leqeni location, recalled her experience of having to wait for hours when she requested an ambulance.
These stories circulating in the villages around Ngqushwa highlighted concerns regarding delayed or unavailable ambulance services.
A nurse from a clinic in one of the villages, who wished to remain anonymous, said when calling the metro at 112 for an ambulance, it was often difficult to get a response.
"If they do answer, most of the time you will be told there is only one ambulance available, and it is still in East London transporting another patient," she said.
She said that sometimes they would be advised to hire a private car to transport patients to the hospital, but many people could not afford that option.
According to Sizwe Kupelo, spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Health Department, there were four ambulances allocated to the Ngqushwa base.
However, due to staffing limitations, only two vehicles were operational daily.
He said there were often periods when all vehicles were busy transporting patients to East London, leaving no vehicles in the local vicinity.
He added that calls from Nompumelelo were attended to upon their return.
“Nompumelelo Hospital is part of our spoke-and-hub health referral system but it serves a large rural population in a sparse setting.
“We attempt to move these patients between Nompumelelo and Buffalo City Metropolitan facilities (Frere Hospital and Cecilia Makiwane Hospital), but this leaves the local population without services,” Kupelo said.
He said the two main routes - the N2 and R72 - were also high-accident routes, demanding their resources.
“We would like to expand the base at Nompumelelo Hospital, but this will require staff. Placement of Rescue capabilities in this base would be ideal,” he said.
Simthembile Vayeke, a representative from the South African National Civic Organization (Sanco) in the Eastern Cape, urged the government to take action.
"Hospitals like Nompumelelo are crucial for providing healthcare to our poor people in the villages," he said.