The desperate shortage of ambulances in the Eastern Cape is a crisis that is compounded by the number of escalating attacks on ambulance personnel who are at risk of being attacked when attempting to respond to an emergency. This has resulted in at least 15 personnel being placed on administrative duties due to post traumatic stress.
Ambulance personnel are now being doubly traumatised by having to deal with patients in life threatening situations as well as experiencing the fear of coming under attack.
In a response to questions in the Legislature, the MEC for Health, Helen Sauls-August, acknowledged that during the first quarter of this financial year, there is already a massive escalation of violent ambulance personnel attacks compared to last year. During the last financial year, there were 19 cases of ambulance personnel attacks and in this financial year, in three months there are already 15 of those cases.
The province needs to drastically improve its strategy to protect ambulance personnel. In the Western Cape panic buttons are linked to dispatch offices. In hotspot areas, protected spots have been identified as pick up points. Anti-smash coverings should be placed over windows and wide angled front and back cameras need to be placed on vehicles in areas where attacks are taking place.
The SAPS must take a strong stance to ensure the protection of ambulance personnel against rogue elements that are causing chaos in communities. It is unbelievable that no arrests have been made. This should not be happening in a society that should put the safety of emergency personnel first.
It has been previously acknowledged that the Eastern Cape Province requires 656 working ambulances in order to comply with the national norm of 1 ambulance per 10 000 people. However, the province currently only has 447 ambulances in their fleet. It comes to no surprise that 200 of these 447 ambulances are currently grounded, either for repairs, have been written off or de-fleeting. This means that there is currently one ambulance for every 32 800 people in the province.
The safety of EMS personnel must be prioritised by the ANC-led government. Enough lives are being lost and too many traumatised by the poor ambulance service. A DA-led government looks forward to bringing real change by means of a safe and efficient health service to the people of the Eastern Cape.
Bobby Stevenson, MPL
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