It takes 100 days to repair an ambulance that has been in an accident and 50 days to have an ambulance serviced in the Eastern Cape.
This shocking truth was revealed in response to questions set by the Health Portfolio Committee during the recent round of Budget Appropriation meetings with officials from the Department.
Currently, there are 412 ambulances in the province instead of the 650 required by national and international norms.
Of these 412, approximately 150 vehicles are being repaired at any given time, which means there are only 260 ambulances to service the entire province!
The impact of this desperate shortage of emergency vehicles is obvious: far slower turnaround times for the retrieval of critically ill patients or women in labour. In rural areas, it is widely known that patients can wait for an ambulance for longer than eight hours.
There are many documented cases of babies born with Cerebral Palsy due to birthing complications arising from delayed deliveries, and even some cases of maternal mortalities arising from delayed births. Other patients have died while waiting in vain for an ambulance to arrive.
The Democratic Alliance has repeatedly called for the Department of Health to improve emergency medical services in the province by ensuring that sufficient, well-equipped and properly manned ambulances are strategically placed across the province to prevent such delays and unnecessary deaths.
The Department continues to use Government Fleet Management Services (GFMS) under the auspices of the Department of Transport. The Department owes the Transport Department over R330 million for services rendered, and they cannot honour this debt.
This could be a reason why the GFMS does not prioritise emergency vehicle repairs, but the slow repair and maintenance times allude to a greater malaise – that of incompetence.
Whatever the reason, it costs our people in lives and will result in further litigation against the Department.
I will write to the Premier and request urgent intervention to ensure all emergency vehicles be prioritised for full repairs in less than 30 days. If this is not possible, this function must be outsourced to private enterprises across the province that can affect such repairs in a reasonable time.
If the Premier and his Executive Committee were serious about turning around the fortunes of the cash strapped, cadre-controlled and corrupt Department of Health, a logical step would be to ensure that emergency services are functional and have sufficient vehicles and paramedics on our roads.
This would ensure that emergency services reach our citizens in good time and dramatically reduce the number of medico-legal claims against the Department, which arise out of slow or non-existent emergency services that result in serious adverse events.