Durban - Row upon row of new provincial ambulances are rusting in a Durban field while there is an outcry over the shortage of emergency vehicles in the province.

Each vehicle is estimated to have cost taxpayers between * R339 000 and R445 000.

The Health Department has spent about R180 million buying 386 ordinary vans and bakkies but has kept them in a fenced ground near Wentworth Hospital while waiting for them to be converted into ambulances.

Health-e News reported in May 2005 that the health MEC of the time, Peggy Nkonyeni, said Emergency Medical Rescue Services (EMRS) would receive new ambulances and emergency support vehicles. Health spokesman Chris Maxon said early last year that the vehicles were delivered to the depot in 2010 and their conversion into medical transport started in 2011.

The vehicles include 116 Mercedes-Benz Sprinters, 117 VW Crafters, 113 Toyota Land Cruisers, 38 VW T5s and two Toyota Hiluxes.

Last year The Mercury visited the field, which is the size of half a soccer field, and it was packed with vehicles. The field was visited again this week, and it was still full of parked vehicles.

A senior health official, who spoke anonymously, said although the vehicles had been branded and registered under the provincial government, they were waiting to be equipped with life-saving equipment and vehicle tracking devices.

A number of paramedics, whose names were being withheld to protect them from possible repercussions, told The Mercury they were concerned about the shortage of ambulances in the province.

“Although we don’t know how many ambulances we are short of, the situation looks serious. In most cases we get calls to attend to patients, which we are unable to do because of the vehicle shortages,” said a paramedic.

Ambulances that are operating also have not been serviced, as they are always in demand to provide essential services.

“The new ambulances are only used to replace those that have been written off,” said another paramedic.

Health spokesman Samuel Mkhwanazi said that the grass growing into the vehicle’s engines was not that serious.

“They are there to have communication equipment installed,” he said. He could not elaborate for “security reasons”, he said.

He promised to investigate the matter further.

* The prices of the various vehicles were established from retailers.

The Mercury