R10m Eastern Cape medical scooter project is a 'fail', reveals health minister

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Jul 9, 2020

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Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has said the controversial scooters purchased by the Eastern Cape Health Department to transport patients did not meet the basic requirement for patient transport as an ambulance.

Mkhize revealed this when responding in writing to parliamentary questions from DA MP Siviwe Gwarube.

Gwarube had asked whether the scooter project launched by the Eastern Cape Department of Health met the basic criteria of patient transport and whether his department was consulted before the specified scooters were procured.

"No, the Scooter Project that was launched by the Eastern Cape Department of Health  (ECDOH) does not meet the basic criteria for patient transport as an ambulance. 

Picture: EC Department of Health


"The purpose of this project by ECDOH is mainly for widening access to primary health care and delivering of chronic medicine for the most remote areas of the Eastern Cape province," Mkhize said.

He also said the national Department of Health was not consulted on specifications before procurement of the scooters.

"However, the province has been advised that none of these scooters will be used as ambulances because they do not meet the specific requirements as provided for in the EMS (emergency medical response) regulations, such as, minimum patient compartment space and equipment requirements," Mkhize added.

His response came amid reports that the provincial department's Bid Adjudication Committee was reviewing the processes followed in the awarding of the contract.

The scooters are fitted with beds, gazebos and extra chairs.

The department entered into a three-year contract with a King William's Town company. 

The R10.1 million contract involved the procurement of 100 scooters, each unit cost R94 000 and R6 000 for maintenance.

In a statement, Gwarube said Mkhize's response was in direct contradiction to what was said when the initiative was launched on June 12 where it was stated by the Eastern Cape Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba that the scooters were meant to ferry patients from rural areas to the nearest health facilities.

She noted that the probe by the provincial department's Bid Adjudication Committee into the awarding of the tender to the supplier of the scooters took place as her party  requested from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to look into the rights of patients who would have to be subjected to this inhumane transport.

Gwarube also said the DA would submit Mkhize's  response to the SAHRC as supplementary evidence in the investigation they have committed to doing.

"If the NDOH (national Department of Health) now backtracks from the initial purported function of the scooters which Minister Mkhize personally endorsed, it begs the question why R10 million is being spent of a chronic medication distribution system. What is the point of the first aid equipment, drip stands and the stretcher attached to the scooter?" she asked.

Gwarube said the scooter scandal was yet another indication of the ineptitude of the Eastern Cape Department of Health leadership.

"The MEC has recently argued that the department is bankrupt, yet R10 million can be wasted on scooters which will gather dust in some warehouse.

"All the while, the province is failing to mount a decent response to the Covid-19 crisis.

"There is a critical shortage of staff, insufficient bed capacity ambulances in some areas, underscored by the rising number of infections and deaths."

She insisted that their call for the Eastern Cape department of health to be placed under administration in accordance with section 100 of the Constitution has become urgent.

Picture: EC Department of Health


"If Minister Mkhize does not act to operationally manage the province, there will be avoidable loss of lives," Gwarube said. 

In June, the launch of the scooters sparked a furore and questions were asked, among others, about the dignity of the patients to be ferried on the scooters.

At the time the ministry had claimed that the intervention was designed to bring services closer to the people.

It had claimed that it received complaints from rural communities about ambulances being unable to reach the sick due to lack of road infrastructure.

“The members of the community end up having to put an individual in a wheelbarrow or walking a long distance while carrying a patient until they reach a road where the ambulance can go," the ministry said in a statement at the time.

“These are motorbikes that are designed for off-road capabilities and the intention is for these units to be able to transport patients to the nearest clinic.

“In addition, the motorbikes can be ridden by two community health workers to carry out tasks such as Covid-19 screening in deep rural areas and general health screening and testing for other communicable diseases such as TB and HIV as well as non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension. They can also be used to deliver medicines."

It had insisted that the dignity and health of people remained a top priority that they would continue to explore all avenues to ensure that even the poorest members of the community enjoy the right to quality health care.

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