SAHRC Holds Hearing Into Eastern Cape Emergency Medical Services

MARCH 25, 2015

The South African Human Rights Commission on Wednesday started with a two-day Provincial Hearing in to the challenges facing access to Emergency Medical Services in the Eastern Cape. The Commission decided to hold this Hearing following systemic problems with regards to the provision of health services in the province.

The Hearing, which is held at the East London International Convention Centre, stems from the complaint Commission received in March 2013 regarding ambulance services in the Eastern Cape, which alleged a violation of Sections 27(1)(a) and (3) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996. According to the allegation in the complaint, right to access to health services was violated by the provincial department.

In its response to the initial investigation, the provincial government conceded to some of the allegations, and stated that roughly 600 ambulances are needed to meet the standard set by the National Department of Health of one ambulance per every 10 000 people.

The response further noted that the provincial Department of Health had only 310 ambulances with 100 ambulances undergoing conversion, such that by the end of the financial year the fleet would be at 410 (68%). As such, according to the provincial Department of Health, the reason for the shortfall of ambulances was due to limited resources.

While the Commission received a response to its request from the provincial Health Department during August 2014, it remains dissatisfied with the content of these submissions. The Commission is of the view that the submissions provided demonstrate a lack of coherence and reasonableness in respect to the provincial department’s plans for Emergency Medical Services and Planned Patient Transport, and it remains unclear as to whether the provincial Department of Health intends to comply with its constitutional and/or other legal obligations.

This prompted the Commission to convene a Provincial Hearing to find ways to resolve this problems, and restore the rights of the Community.

The Commission has identified a range of problems with ambulance and Planned Patient Transport (PPT) services which includes the complete lack of services in certain communities, the frequent unavailability of and uncertainty around services, poor response times, the lack of equipment, the shortage and incompetence of staff, and the inability of the provincial Department of Health vehicles to navigate the roads to access most areas in the rural parts of the province.

In the days preceding this Hearing, the Commission conducted further community meetings with some of these communities - including Xhora Mouth, Nier Village, Lusikisiki and Isilatsha – representatives of whom will be making submission to the Hearing Panel suring the course of these Hearings.

The primary objective of this inquisitorial process is to enlighten the Commission as to the causes of the violations currently being experienced by affected communities, as well as the challenges experienced by the various spheres of government in addressing them. The Commission hopes to better understand and develop practical measures that can be implemented to effectively overcome these obstacles.

It is the Commission’s ultimate objective that those who have been denied access to emergency medical services in the Province’s most vulnerable communities are able to experience their rights as articulated in the Constitution.

Among those to appear before the hearing to make submissions includes Eastern Cape Communities, a Coalition that includes TAC and labour organisations representing nurses and doctors, provincial Health MEC, provincial Planning and Finance MEC, and provincial Roads and Transport MEC.

Image courtesy of Grocotts Mail.