Health plays Russian Roulette with people’s lives as it ignores EMS

The Department of Health is playing Russian Roulette with the lives of over six million people in the province, as it continues to ignore the plight of the Emergency Medical Services sector.

People in crisis, who need urgent medical attention, are at times forced to wait for hours, because half of the already severely under-resourced ambulance service is stuck in a hopelessly cumbersome fleet management repair system.

This crisis has now been compounded by the strike action.

Heart breaking stories of young mothers and their babies dying because the ambulance could not get to them in time are too commonplace in the Eastern Cape.

The current strike action within the Emergency Medical Services sector is a direct result of the consistent failure of the Department of Health to address critical issues.

The day to day situation that Emergency Medical Services personnel have to deal with has simply become untenable.

Critical staff shortages have resulted in many EMS employees working far longer hours than legally allowed, but their overtime is capped at 30% of their monthly salary. Overtime dating back to 2003 has still not been paid.

The national norm is that one ambulance services 10 000 people, which means the Eastern Cape should have 640 functional ambulances, but currently only has a fleet of 416, with roughly half of those not functional.

The Department has also cut back the number of approved EMS courses, such as the Basic Ambulance Assistant (BAA) and the Critical Care Assistant (CAA) courses, despite a very strong recommendation by a UCT – led panel of experts to expand the short courses on offer.

Instead of bolstering the sub-programme that provides life-giving care, the Department has taken money away to cover the medico-legal claims. This makes no sense, as with a reduced budget, the EMS sub programme will be exposed to the very same risk of litigation.

The Democratic Alliance cannot, however, condone strike action, which deprives the people of the Eastern Cape of what little medical service they have left.

We understand the terrible frustration of these dedicated and selfless people and urge the Department of Health to address the challenges faced by the sector as a matter of extreme urgency.

The Democratic Alliance believes that a well- equipped and sufficiently staffed EMS service will go a long way towards bringing critical health care to all that require it.