File picture: Independent Media

Port Elizabeth - An ambulance crew attending to a woman who was giving birth was robbed at gunpoint in Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape Department of Health said on Thursday. 

Provincial spokesperson, Sizwe Kupelo said the incident happened at around 10pm on Wednesday at Tuta Street in New Brighton while medics were attending to the mother. 

Kupelo said that both crew members were inside the woman's house assisting her after she had given birth.

"The female crew member went to the ambulance and was confronted by a male. A scuffle ensued and the other crew member went out to investigate when he was confronted by a gun wielding man who pointed a firearm and demanded all their belongings including wallets and cellphones." 

Kupelo said that medics then called for help using the ambulance radio communication system. He said the shift leader and other colleagues rushed to the scene to rescue their colleagues.

"There were community members at the scene but could not assist ambulance crew members during their ordeal. The two robbers disappeared - no one sustained injuries and no shots were fired. Both crew members are fine but shocked and will receive psychological treatment," said Kupelo.

Both the mother and the newborn baby were later taken to Dora Nginza Hospital in a healthy condition. 

Kupelo said that following a series of similar incidents in the Port Elizabeth area, ambulance crews will now conduct situational analysis before responding to calls and will go out in teams - if the situation looks suspicious they will contact the nearest police station and request an escort. 

He said that this would definitely affect ambulance response times and possibly lead to complications or deaths. These ongoing attacks prompted an emergency meeting with the Provincial Police Commissioner in December last year. 

"While the department strives to provide prompt and efficient emergency service to the community, the safety of our staff members is equally important and we cannot fail them and risk their lives," he said.

Kupelo said that health services in Port Elizabeth were generally targeted with clinics frequently being broken into resulting in nurses downing tools and demanding safety at the clinics they operate. 

In October last year, doctors working in Port Elizabeth's townships held a peaceful protest in Motherwell calling for heightened police presence in the areas in which they operate, this after a spate of attacks at practices in Motherwell, Zwide and Kwazakhele. 

The Eastern Cape Department of Health condemned these ongoing attacks and warned perpetrators that these were essential services which they themselves might need in the future. 

"Even in war zones - health practitioners are spared because of the important service they provide to the community and injured victims of war," said Kupelo.

Police spokesperson, Captain Andre Beetge said that police were investigating a case of armed robbery. 

-African News Agency (ANA). Editing by Catherine Rice