THERE are only 64 government ambulances serving the entire Eastern Cape province. This was revealed yesterday by newly appointed provincial Health Department superintended-general Dr Siva Pillay.

Pillay confirmed the province was supposed to have 240 ambulances.

He was speaking at a media conference in Port Elizabeth where he outlined plans to turn around the cash strapped Health Department, which has frozen all payments to its suppliers .

He said, however, the province hoped to have 150 ambulances working at provincial hospitals within the next three months.

Pillay confirmed that the Health Department was set to overspend by nearly R1.8billion by the end of the current financial year on March 31.

He said some high-ranking department officials had resigned after his appointment last month.

“Corrupt officials should walk out of my department but the investigators will tail them even if they’ve resigned.”

Pillay acknowledged that the province faced huge problems with the migration of medical staff.

“When people follow money, we start to lose staff but if only we can provide staff with services such as accommodation, safety and schools for their children, we can keep them in the province.”

He said the department had embarked on international recruitment and 50 doctors were expected to start to work in Eastern Cape provincial hospitals and clinics by the end of this month , and 100 more doctors would arrive by the end of next month.

Pillay said the department was negotiating with unions representing nurses to discuss outstanding occupational specific dispensation (OSD) payments.

Doctors had been paid their OSD increases as promised and he would ensure that nurses received their payments by the end of May.

He said much of the cash crisis arose because of a lack of communication of management in the department.

Pillay said he expected the department to clear the debt in three years.

DA health spokesperson Pine Pienaar described the ambulance situation as critical.

Pienaar said he had asked Premier Noxolo Kiviet to intervene by calling on the South African Defence Force and the private sector to assist the Health Department in transporting patients from villages to nearby clinics and hospitals .

BLS emergency services owner Graham Pearson said the private sector was willing to assist the Health Department with ambulances as long as the government acknowledged they had a problem.

“Government did have money but only a formal agreement can seal the deal,” he said. – This story appeared in the Daily Dispatch

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