EASTERN Cape Health MEC Sicelo Gqobana painted a grim picture yesterday of an ambulance service in crisis – and of people dying as a result.

Speaking at a health portfolio committee meeting in Bhisho, Gqobana highlighted some of the challenges facing the embattled provincial emergency medical services (EMS). They included: Some ambulance drivers not having the required public driver’s permits (PDP); Ambulance workers in areas like Queenstown “could not even make an ambulance move”; Ambulance drivers regarded as “no better than reckless taxi drivers” in Alice; No strong leadership and management expertise at the Mthatha EMS centre, which services Mthatha and hundreds of nearby villages; and Some emergency care practitioners not being registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), as required by law.

Furthermore, no action had been taken against several officials who had committed gross irregularities, such as ignoring calls while on standby and reckless driving.

“I don’t want to lie to you, the EMS is in crisis,” Gqobana said.

A health delegation, led by the MEC and acting administration head Mahlubandile Qwase, told the committee that, as a result, the EMS in the province was turning into anarchy while people continued to die seeking help. DA MPL John Cupido told the committee that a heavily pregnant Mount Frere woman whose baby had died in her womb had to wait days for a procedure to remove it because the hospital could not transfer her to Mthatha for the operation.

Despite senior officials at the meeting yesterday trying to convince MPLs they were doing their best to cure the ailing EMS, Gqobana painted a different picture. “We are too slow to act,” he said. “We are so weak on some of the issues that we are supposed to be pouncing on. We are not going to come to this committee and pretend we are dealing with this matter.”

He said there was no proper management at all levels of the EMS.

Committee chairman and ANC MPL Mxolisi Dimaza said the situation was “an embarrassment” to the [health] department.

Cupido said action had to be taken against senior staff who did not perform, as this would “definitely filter down to the bottom”.