Ambulances ‘endanger patients’

2009-01-18 00:00

Some of the paramedics working for the Health Department’s Emergency Medical Rescue Services (EMRS) based at the Church of Scotland Hospital in Tugela Ferry claim that the ambulances they work with are unroadworthy and dangerous.

Speaking to The Witness on Friday, the paramedics said the ambulances’ poor condition has prompted patients to complain.

Two of the paramedics, who spoke on condition of anonymity and whose names are known to The Witness, said there are a number of ambulances that should not be used.

They said that ambulances known as Alpha 57, 3, 9, 14, 12, 17 and 26 are not reliable in emergencies.

The paramedics alleged that one of the ambulances has a cracked windscreen, which makes it difficult to see at night, while the doors and bumpers of the other ambulances are tied with bandages and ropes.

One paramedic said the worst ambulance is Alpha 9. He said the steering wheel has a wobble and passengers fear the vehicle is going to break in half.

Others said two of the ambulances broke down while on duty at about 2 am on Friday and had to be towed away.

The ambulances are dirty and patients complain about them regularly, but the supervisors threaten to fire paramedics who bring the complaints to their attention, the paramedics allege.

“They [the supervisors] don’t care about our safety, and what is even more disturbing is that they don’t care about the patients. They keep telling us that the ambulances will go for servicing, but they come back in the same state. We work in the rural areas and we travel on gravel roads. The ambulances can break down at any time, but are not fixed, yet they keep telling us that safety comes first,” said one of the paramedics.

He added that the patient compartments in some ambulances let in rain, while other ambulances operate without licence disks for months.

The paramedic alleged that his colleagues are not allowed to use two ambulances in good condition, Alpha 68 and 75, in and around Tugela Ferry as they are reserved for patient transfers to Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

“Sometimes we spend hours with the patients waiting for assistance from the base when the ambulances break down. We work in terrible conditions. Some paramedics were fired for complaining about the state of the ambulances,” said another paramedic.

This was confirmed by Roshan Lil-Ruthan, acting provincial manager for the Public Servants Association (PSA).

Lil-Ruthan said most paramedics working for government are affiliated to the PSA.

He added that the association is appealing against the dismissal of three paramedics who were fired after complaining about the state of the ambulances at the Tugela Ferry base.

“It has been regularly reported to us by the employees that the employers force them to operate unroadworthy vehicles. We have alerted the Road Traffic Inspectorate to go and inspect the condition of the ambulances,” said Lil-Ruthan.

Health Department spokesman Leon Mbangwa said that the department is not aware of any unroadworthy ambulances. He said that the department buys new ambulances every year as replacements.

He added that an inspection of the ambulances will be done today at Tugela Ferry and ambulances deemed unroadworthy will be removed from the fleet immediately.

thandom@witness.co.za

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