By Sherlissa Peters

A Pietermaritzburg heart attack victim had to wait for an hour before a provincial ambulance arrived at the scene.

The province's shortage of ambulances in the capital has contributed to a growing bitterness among the city's residents and its police force, who are increasingly having to handle paramedic duties as ambulances do not arrive.

Former nurse Annaline Davids, of Prestbury, said she waited for more than an hour after calling an ambulance when her mother suffered a heart attack last week.

“I waited for close to an hour and made about 20 calls to them in that time. Thank goodness that I am trained in situations like these - another person may have had a nervous breakdown waiting for help like that,” she said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a member of the SAPS Dog Unit in Pietermaritzburg, told the Daily News that there had been numerous occasions where the police services had to step in and medically assist victims of accidents and crime.

“We are trained in advanced first aid and CPR. We cannot just sit there and wait for an ambulance to get there,” the policeman said.

He added that he had on many occasions personally called the ambulance services to a scene and was frustrated with the slow response time.

Resident Mnyamezeli Ngcobo said that emergency services should respond as if every situation was a life and death emergency.

Ngcobo said that he had witnessed at least three occasions where ambulance services arrived hours after the emergency call was made.

“An elderly woman was knocked over by a taxi recently and the ambulance arrived three hours later.

“A couple of weeks ago, a man was assaulted in the CBD and was bleeding profusely. Again we waited for an ambulance for more than two hours.

Fortunately members of the SAPS responded to the incident and assisted the victim. If it had not been for them, the man would have surely been in a more serious condition,” Ngcobo said.

Department of Health spokesperson Lindiwe Khuzwayo, said there were an average of 16 ambulances operating in the Pietermaritzburg area and the norm was a response time of 30 minutes in the urban areas and an hour in the rural areas.

“Health care around this country is suffering and we need the proper authorities to investigate these allegations and ensure that this type of situation is rooted out,” said one paramedic operating in the Pietermaritzburg area for five years.

He said that the 16 provincial ambulances operating in the greater Pietermaritzburg area were not enough.

“We cannot be in 10 places at once. We do our best with the staff and resources available to us. Government needs to address the problem and assist us by deploying more employees,” he said.

Khuzwayo said delays were often caused when all ambulances had been dispatched to other scenes when a particular call came through. She said delays were also caused when other emergency numbers were called first instead of 10177 - the direct dial for provincial ambulances.

Presenting the 2005/6 Budget speech, Health Minister Neliswa Nkonyeni said her department was allocating R419-million to the emergency services.