Ambulances are said to be either in the workshop for repairs, have been decommissioned or have been declared unroadworthy
WITH the festive season fast approaching, emergency medical services (EMS) personnel are working with skeleton staff and are struggling to respond to all the call-outs they receive due to a dire shortage of resources and ambulances.
There is a reported under-staffing of almost 400 EMS personnel, where only between five and seven vehicles are in operation during the week as well as over busy weekends in Kimberley and Galeshewe.
Staff are also being prevented from claiming for overtime, even if their colleagues are on leave or are booked off sick.
A number of EMS staff are scheduled to take annual leave over the Christmas holidays.
Ambulances are said to be either in the workshop for repairs, have been decommissioned or have been declared unroadworthy.
According to inside sources, payments were being authorised for the regular repair of vehicles that are no longer in use, where they have been stored in the yard for up to two years, or that have been sold on auction.
The rear door of one ambulance was also reported to have been replaced with second-hand parts
The patient transport vehicle that burst into flames near Barkly West earlier this year apparently needed major repairs but was released the same day from a private service provider.
The vehicle was transporting sick, frail and elderly patients from Kimberley to Upington on May 30, where the driver had to assist the patients to escape the blazing inferno.
Emergency services were called out to the scene while the vehicle was engulfed in fire.
The EMS crisis has been further highlighted following an outcry from the community after the death of a baby who died shortly after she was delivered at home in Beaconsfield on the weekend.
Neighbours said they waited for five-and-a-half hours before the ambulance arrived on Saturday.
One neighbour, Christine Samuels, believed that the baby’s life could have been saved if the ambulance had arrived in time.
“We started calling the ambulance at 8am when the mother started going into labour. The ambulance only arrived at around 1.30pm. The mother, was alone in the bedroom when the baby was born at about 12.45pm. Not long after the baby stopped breathing as her airways were not cleared in time,” said Samuels.
“She also had to walk home after she was discharged from the hospital because there were no patient transport vehicles available to take her home. She said she was tired of waiting for the taxi and decided to walk home, even though she was extremely traumatised and crying.”
Samuels added that the mother did not want to hold a burial for her daughter. “She said that she does not want the added trauma of burying her baby.”
Ward councillor Ockie Fourie said that he would assist the mother in appointing a lawyer to take legal action against the Northern Cape Department of Health for negligence.
“Someone has to take responsibility for the loss of a newborn baby. It is indescribable what the mother had to endure.”
The spokesperson for the provincial Department of Health, Lulu Mxekezo, said that they were investigating the matter.
“The department conveys its deepest condolences to the bereaved. The unfortunate incident that happened in Beaconsfield on the weekend is under investigation.”
Mxekezo stated that, on average, six ambulances were operating in the Kimberley region on a daily basis.
“There are about 25 decommissioned vehicles that will soon be auctioned and cleared from the system.
“The extent of the damage to the vehicle determines whether or not the vehicle will be repaired. If it is not cost effective to repair the vehicle it is then decommissioned,” Mxekezo explained.
“We have no knowledge of vehicles that have been paid in full but not repaired. However, the EMS unit has put in place a control measure whereby vehicles sent for repairs must be checked and test driven before an invoice is signed and processed for payment.”
Mxekezo indicated that additional EMS staff could not be recruited due to budgetary constraints.
“The department keeps losing staff due to transfers, retirements, light-duty and resignations, which contributes to the shortage of personnel.
“The policy allow staff to only work 34 hours overtime per month and not more than that.”
The spokesperson for the Office of the Premier, Bronwyn Thomas-Abrahams, said yesterday that Premier Zamani Saul would discuss the matter with the MEC for Health to obtain a full briefing on the issues raised.
“The premier expresses his heartfelt condolences and regrets the loss suffered by the family,” said Thomas-Abrahams.
“The premier and the provincial government remain committed to providing the best quality services with the resources at our disposal.”