The operators were reacting to the implementation of the Emergency Medical Services Regulations 2017, which seeks to bring “stability” to the emergency services profession.
Dr Thandeka Khanyile, chief executive of Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, on Monday said the regulations were promulgated under the National Health Act 2003, to regulate both the public and private ambulance services, and the regulations would be implemented in December.
“Operators have until November 30 to apply to the provincial Health Department for operating licences. During assessment, those who are compliant will be granted licences,” Khanyile said.
Operators would work only within specific health districts, with the licences reviewed annually.
According to the department, the primary aim of the regulations was to improve the quality of patient care and rid the sector of “fly-by-night” operators whose conduct had, at times, placed patients’ lives at risk.
“In the current unregulated environment in the province, there has been nothing to ensure that both public and private emergency care services are manned by registered and adequately-trained staff, with proper and adequate equipment,” the department said in a recent statement.
“These regulations seek to address this and also ensure consistency and standardisation of operations in the sector, so that the service is the same, anywhere, everywhere and at any time - regardless of the operator involved.”
The licence application process would be overseen by an independent advisory committee which would make recommendations to the department head. The committee was composed of an expert in emergency medicine, a representative of the SA Local Government Association, a representative each from the public and private emergency care services, and a representative of health-care users, the department said.
The licence application fee is R8 000 per operator and the inspection fee is R2000 per station; R300 per ambulance; R300 per response vehicle; and R500 per rescue vehicle. The annual licence renewal fee is R2 000 per operator; R300 per ambulance; R300 per response vehicle; and R500 per rescue vehicle. There is an additional R1000 inspection fee per station.
The department said any operator who continued to provide emergency care services without a licence would be guilty of an offence and might be liable, upon conviction, to a fine of up to R500 000, a jail term of up to five years, or both.
Garrith Jamieson, spokesperson for Rescue Care, said the regulations would hold service providers to a higher standard, leading to better care for patients.
Sharaj Mahabeer, owner of Sharaj Ambulances, said the department should start by renewing its own ageing response vehicles and ensure that unregistered operators were barred from accident scenes.