The Eastern Cape Department of Health (EC DoH) in not paying Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff salaries, various allowances and overtime properly is the sole creator of the current strikes in the East London and Port Elizabeth Metro areas. Now the department is forced to use the expensive services of private EMS companies, with the taxpayer footing the bill as usual.

Yet again there seems to be no accountability on the side of EC DoH officials for knowingly allowing working conditions get to such an unacceptable stage causing the implosion that it has.

Yesterday, (subs: Tues, 20 Nov) the Superintendant-General of Health, Dr. Siva Pillay, reported to the Eastern Cape Portfolio Committee on Health that he had contacted all the private EMS companies on the department’s database, asking them to be on standby for calls to assist in paramedic and transport services.

Questions that need to be answered are:

  • How much will these private companies be charging us (being an emergency, will they take chances and charge significantly more)?
  • Where does the “suddenly available” money come from?
  • Who are the officials responsible for allowing things to get this bad, and will they be held accountable?
  • How long is the department expecting to make use of the private EMS services?
  • Most private EMS services are contracted to medical schemes and have only so much vehicle and paramedic resources. When called by the EC DoH or someone they are contracted to, who will they prioritise?

The DA has the utmost respect for the professionalism of most private EMS companies, but not having seen the list of providers on the department’s database, how do we know that a less than professional company would take the call from the EC DoH, yet still prioritise their private/contracted client, knowing that state ambulances have the reputation of taking hours to get to a scene.

The department needs to urgently ensure that there are service level agreements in place with the private EMS providers that cover maximum cost of the service and response times. Also, the department must, as a matter of urgency, resolve this issue before it spills over to the Mount Ayliff-, Queenstown- and Mthatha-areas.

Finally, it is imperative that the MEC of Health, Sicelo Gqobana, finds out who allowed the outstanding payments to build up over the years and hold them accountable. We need to cut the rot out of the system.