The Western Cape Emergency Medical Services believes that calls for personnel not to operate in crime-ridden areas would be “premature“. And the head of the service has rejected Premier Helen Zille’s appeal to have soldiers escort staff.
Authorities were responding to a statement by the Health & Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) on Thursday‚ which said its members were considering withdrawing their services in the wake of violent attacks on personnel which resulted in the death of a child in Cape Town on Wednesday.
Director of the EMS in the Western Cape Shaheem de Vries said that several things would need to happen before EMS clinical staff downed tools or boycotted “red zone” areas. This includes a complete failing of systems and a change in the organisation’s position on how widespread the problem actually is.
“I understand the position by Hospersa but I think it is premature and it doesn’t reflect our labour caucus‚” De Vries said.
“It’s an emotional response to a challenging problem. The people who live in communities will pay for such a decision.
“We have people who are supportive of the union but the position reflects poor understanding of the challenges and mindset of personnel.”
According to Hospersa‚ its statement comes as attacks on EMS personnel across the country have increased. The union said there had been over 100 incidents in the Western Cape in 2016.
An attack on Wednesday left an eight-year-old boy dead after the ambulance transporting him was held up at gunpoint.
“The increasing rate of these attacks on EMS personnel is alarming. It is regrettable that Government’s slow pace in addressing these attacks has now had fatal results‚” said Hospersa General Secretary Noel Desfontaines.
“[The union] is considering withdrawing the service to put pressure on government to address the scourge of these attacks which are depriving community members of urgent medical attention when needed the most.”
Premier in the Western Cape Helen Zille called for members of the SA National Defence Force to be brought in to escort EMS personnel in the province.
But De Vries believed such a move wouldn’t solve the problem‚ especially for the people left in those communities.
“Staff aren’t being specifically targeted and they are not the sole focus of attacks‚ but rather collateral of persistent crime in those areas. Sending in the SANDF won’t change that‚” De Vries said.
He said they knew certain areas were volatile and hostile and while they appreciated the support from the likes of Zille‚ help should be offered in conjunction with other community-based initiatives.