40 new ambulances remain unused
Paramedics in the North West are using old ambulances that break down with patients on board while a new fleet remains unused, gathering dust.
Employees yesterday said they were worried that the constant ambulance shortages and breakdowns would cause more accidents, putting their lives and those of the patients at risk.
They said last week an ambulance rolled over in Madibogo after it hit a donkey, while another was involved in a crash last month in Delareyville, overturning with a patient on board.
The paramedics said some of the vehicles only have red lights and no sirens. "When the traffic is busy, we are unable to ask other road users to give us way. At that time we are carrying a patient that needs urgent medical attention."
The paramedics said they were faced with these working conditions despite the fact that the department bought more than 40 new ambulances in January to address the shortage of ambulances in the province. They claimed these were parked at the Emergency Medical Rescue Services (EMRS) College in Orkney, outside Klerksdorp.
The paramedics said most of the time, families of patients attack them and threaten to sue them when they arrive late or find the patient already dead.
"The department gave us a turnaround when we raise these problems. If we go to an urban area, it takes us an average five minutes and 15 to 20 minutes when we go to rural areas," another paramedic said.
They also complained that crash scenes were too much to deal with and that the health department stopped giving them counselling after attending to such accidents.
Another paramedic said according to their policies they were supposed to use cars that had travelled 120,000km or less but in the North West they use cars that had travelled more than 300,000km.
"We are at risk and we are putting the lives of the patients at risk as well. Going to work is demoralising because one does not know whether he or she will come back home safe."
He said almost every week an ambulance breaks down. He said at times private ambulances refuse to help as backup. "They say our department owes them money. So when we are busy we are forced to speed so that we can attend to all the calls we receive."
Health department spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane said the new ambulances were likely waiting to be registered. He promised to respond further after talking to the EMRS provincial manager.