Picture: @WCHEMS

Cape Town - Patients who call ambulances to attend to them in Khayelitsha say paramedics are refusing to come to their addresses, fearing being attacked by opportunistic criminals.

Resident Nobubele Mhlahlo, 33, said she had to hire a car to take her to a meeting point at the fire station in Japhta Masemola Road.

“As much as I understand the workers' concerns, it's sad that patients have to suffer like this. What happens when a patient lives alone, can’t walk or has no money to hire transport to the meeting point?”

Paramedics are adamant that something has to be done to guarantee their safety and they have threatened to strike if their employer, the Health Department, does not find an amicable solution to create a safer working environment.

Three paramedics, who spoke to the Cape Times on condition of anonymity, said they had stopped going into Khayelitsha.

One of them said: “It’s too dangerous. Sometimes we receive hoax calls from people wanting to rob us.

“Our employers have suggested that surveillance cameras be fitted on ambulances to identify perpetrators. But we believe that all cameras would do is attract the attention of opportunistic criminals,” she said.

Another paramedic said conditions in Khayelitsha were worse on weekends when many people were drunk.

Robert Daniels, a spokesperson for the Western Cape Health Department, confirmed paramedics were not attending patients at their addresses in Khayelitsha.

Daniels said: “Since emergency medical services (EMS) is an essential service, paramedics are not permitted to strike.”

Last weekend a team attending to a patient in Philippi were pelted with stones and their ambulance’s back window shattered.

For the past two days Hospersa, the union representing government paramedics, has been locked in talks with the provincial Health Department to discuss the attacks and to try to find solutions.

Hospersa official Noel Desfontaines said paramedics wanted to fulfil their duties, but could never be sure they would come back alive.

Cape Times