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Eastern Cape Dept of Health commits to solving emergency service problems

Oct 2, 2015
Eastern Cape Dept of Health commits to solving emergency service problems

The Eastern Cape health department has committed to fixing a number of problems cited by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) regarding the delivery of emergency medical services, especially to rural areas.

This emerged in the findings of a report produced by the SAHRC on emergency medical service delivery in the Eastern Cape presented to media in Johannesburg.

Deputy chair Pregs Govender, speaking at the briefing, said some of the recommendations included increasing the number of ambulances, "especially the number of ambulances specifically designed to navigate the rough terrain, adapted in terms of 4x4 capacity".

This was after the commission found the department only had 200 operational ambulances, out of a fleet of 416, while national standards stated the province needed 656 ambulances.


Govender said among their recommendations was that all ambulances have proper equipment, that there was a particular need for trained staff in rural areas, and that call centre operators required training on prioritisation for dispatch.

Further, roads needed to be improved as it made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for standard ambulances to reach rural areas.

"The commitment [from the health department] was that the budget for EMS would be increased. There was a clear commitment that they would purchase more ambulances," Govender said.

"More 4x4 ambulances would be purchased... They committed that ambulances will be fitted with tracking devices, the number of vehicles to transfer people between health services and facilities will be increased so the service will be more reliable."

No person would wait longer than four hours for an ambulance, though the aim was for ambulances to arrive much sooner than that.

If an ambulance has not arrived as expected, the relevant district mangers could be contacted. The department handed the relevant cellphone numbers to the commission to share with communities in the case of delayed response.

Road improvements

The provincial transport department, which had also participated at the public meeting, pledged to improve certain roads leading to hospitals and rural roads.

However, in their submission to the commission, it was emphasised that improving all the province's roads would take many years.

Dr Prinitha Pillay, programme manager for human resources for health and policy implementation at the Rural Health Advocacy Project, told media that it was clear there had been multiple violations of citizens’ rights.

"What we witnessed was an extreme amount of physical and mental anguish for these communities and their resulting bereavement... certainly needs to be a priority going forward," she said.

This was because rural communities tended to be neglected, and since they were rural, suffered from an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude.

"The SAHRC and the state have a responsibility to monitor progress and more importantly whether there is not progress," she said.