Eastern Cape MEC promises better security for medics
Eastern Cape ambulance crews and their assistants are servicing Port Elizabeth’s townships again after boycotting them for a week out of fear for their lives. The medics demanded police escorts but the police said they were overwhelmed and it was not part of their mandate to escort ambulances. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff are concerned that communities are failing to protect them against criminals while they attend to patients. They have also complained that they have been assaulted by residents when taking long to arrive to emergency scenes.
EMS workers in the past week ran an awareness campaign in townships, educating residents about the importance of ambulances.
Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba met EMS workers on Wednesday, 9 October 2019, at Dora Nginza Hospital. Some police station and municipal councillors also attended. Describing measures to be taken, Gomba said EMS staff would carry body cameras on them and emergency vehicles would be fitted with cameras linked to the control room. The control room would be revamped and staff trained to communicate better. Push-to-talk buttons (a cell phone communication system that can communicate simultaneously with many people) would be installed in all vehicles by 18 October 2019.
She also said more ambulances would be added and drivers would be trained in advanced driving to escape from dangerous situations. “We are proposing you carry pepper spray for defensive purposes. Ambulance windows will be protected with shatterprufe glass to deflect thrown objects like bricks and stones.”
Signage on the outside of vehicles would make it clear that no money or valuables are inside.
Gomba also proposed that ward councillor and committee members’ contact details be kept in the control room, so that they could be notified of the presence of ambulances in their areas. She urged community leaders to educate residents about the importance of ambulances.
Gomba said the department would also test the decentralisation of ambulances to speed up getting ambulances to patients. Decentralisation means keeping some ambulances at clinics rather than a single location. But Gomba said this could not be a permanent solution because it was not safe to keep ambulances at some clinics and decentralisation demanded extra administrative staff.
A control room operator said she would prefer ambulances to be decentralised to reduce community anger. She said at present ambulances were stationed at Dora Nginza Hospital, far away from places like Motherwell and Ikamvelihle.
A group of about 30 Emergency Medical Services employees drove on Thursday and Friday, 3 and 4 October 2019, in ten vehicles through Port Elizabeth townships, appealing to people not to attack them. “We are not on strike or protesting but our message to the community is that they should allow us to do our job without fear of being attacked,” said a worker who did not want his name used. He was addressing residents on Friday in Captain Street, NU10, Motherwell. “This service is for the community and our job is very important because we assist the sick and the injured. Our members are being attacked day and night. Criminals take valuables like cellphones, money, watches and bags.”
He said workers had stopped attending to patients at their homes unless they were escorted by the police. “We go to townships with police escorts because criminals have robbed us, even in the house while treating patients,” he added.
But Motherwell Cluster Commander Major General Dawie Rabie said it was not the responsibility of police to escort ambulances. “If we have to escort every other organisation or company experiencing problems, our core functions of policing will be defeated.” He said communities needed to take a stand against such attacks on emergency services.
Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu said no one had been arrested for robbing ambulances.
Another ambulance driver said community members were afraid to point out criminals to police. “One of our team was robbed last month while attending to a patient at a house in Soweto-on-Sea. The woman who lives there admitted knowing the criminals but she was afraid to point them out to police. This makes our job very dangerous.”
He said an ambulance transporting a patient to Dora Nginza hospital had been robbed at gunpoint at a robot. The crew and the patient had been robbed of all their valuables.
Spokesperson for MEC for Health Sindiswa Gomba, Judy Ngoloyi, said a high level meeting involving the MEC would be held in Port Elizabeth this week to address the issue of security of ambulance personnel.
Source: Ground Up