NO MORE AIR SUPPORT

THE Eastern Cape health department has cancelled its multi-million rand air ambulance contract after a series of irregularities.

THE Eastern Cape health department has cancelled its multi-million rand air ambulance contract after a series of irregularities.

Spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said yesterday the department was expecting a refund of R11million from the contractor, National Airways Corporation.

Kupelo said the cancellation followed an investigation by the department and forensic accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The probe found that the department had been grossly overcharged for services rendered by the company.

NAC had for example claimed a six-hour flight from East London to Mthatha, which was triple the flying time.

The province's head of emergency medical services, Shanks Maharaj, resigned in February after revelations of a R95000 jaunt by officials to a Confederations Cup match in Bloemfontein in an air ambulance at the department's expense.

Kupelo said the department would now hire air ambulance services on a month-to-month basis, and only as the need arose. It has identified four companies that it would use in rotation.

Kupelo also said the department would follow "internal disciplinary processes" that could possibly result in dismissals of 48 ambulance practitioners whose registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa has lapsed.

The 48 were part of a larger group of 325 suspended without pay last month until they were able to provide proof of registration with the HPCSA.

Kupelo said that number had now been reduced to 115, of whom 67 would have to undergo a week-long refresher course before reinstatement on the HPCSA's register.

The 48 had, however, been off the HPCSA register for longer than five years and had "serious problems".

They would have to redo their qualification, the basic ambulance assistant's course, which was likely to run only in October.

"The view of the department is we cannot wait that long," he said. "We'll have to follow internal disciplinary processes."

Kupelo said separate from the HPCSA matter, the department had decided to employ another 150 ambulance practitioners to boost emergency services in the province. - Sapa

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