Durban — The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health has refuted claims by the IFP there is a shortage of emergency medical response service (EMRS) ambulances.
On Tuesday, IFP councillor Jonathan Annipen said the party had undertaken an inquiry to determine the extent of the problem and find ways to address it.
Annipen said in the past few weeks the IFP had received calls from residents and lobby groups in Phoenix and surrounding areas who say many people have had to wait hours, and sometimes days, for an EMRS ambulance to arrive. In some instances, the ambulance arrived after the patient had died and their body had been removed by the funeral home.
He said 800 to 900 cases were logged daily, but barely 10% of these calls were attended to.
“This, in our opinion, is a shameful and deplorable state of affairs that warrants a serious commission of inquiry. The MEC of Health in KZN as well as her national counterparts must be held accountable for negligence and avoidable deaths,” he said.
It is reported the EMRS ambulance-patient ratio is 1 ambulance for every 10 000 patients. Annipen, however, said the department should recalculate this ratio.
He said it was disturbing to note that for a base such as the Phoenix Community Health Centre (Unit 10 clinic), only five vehicles were allocated, and of these, only two ambulances were operational to service more than 1 million residents. The EMRS at this base were expected to service Cornubia, Mount Moriah, Mount Royal, parts of Inanda, Zelwisha and uMhlanga.
“We have also learnt that paramedics are sometimes base-bound for days on end without attending to field cases. This is not because they don’t want to work but rather because there are no ambulances to work with,” said Annipen.
He said in an area such as KwaMashu, seven vehicles had been allocated by the KZN Department of Health but only an average of three worked on any given day. This base was expected to service the communities of KwaMashu, Newlands East, Newlands West, parts of Inanda, Durban North and deal with inter-hospital transfers.
“Paramedics complained that they are often tasked with doing the previous day's cases the day after because of the handicap of limited vehicles. This results in families of patients who have died hurling abuse at EMRS staff,” said Annipen.
He said according to the department's statistics, there were more than 115 registered and licensed private ambulance service companies in KZN. Yet, the department had never considered entering into a public-private partnership with these companies, even for a fixed term, so that it could get its house in order and deal with this progressively worsening crisis.
KZN Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane said the EMRS had a fleet of 70 operational ambulances in eThekwini alone, with reasonable coverage of the population that fell under its health facilities within the district.
There were four sub-districts for emergency care responses, which were co-ordinated from a central point to ensure efficiency, said Simelane.
She said when the department requested Annipen provide the names and contact details of the people who allegedly required ambulances but got no assistance, he did not do so.
Simelane encouraged political parties to support the department‘s efforts to mobilise residents to protect paramedics when they ventured into their communities.
“They should be leading from the front in fighting crime and rejecting orchestrated attacks against these first responders, paramedics, which has been a worrying and growing phenomenon of late,” said Simelane.
She said as part of ongoing efforts to improve service delivery, the department had set aside a budget to procure more ambulances in the new financial year.
In her 2022 budget vote delivered in May, Simelane said: “During this new financial year, we will be adding a total of 56 ambulances, which will add to our existing fleet of 211 operational ambulances. This will be made up of 24 Mercedes Sprinters and 16 IVECOs, which will provide pre-hospital care; as well as a further 16 response vehicles. All of this will be at a cost of R53.4 million.”
While in her 2020/21 budget vote Simelane said: “During the 2019/20 financial year, a total of 131 ambulances were procured. This financial year 2020/21 amount, we will be buying 52 ambulances. NEED TO BEEF UP.”
WhatsApp your views on this story at 071 485 7995.