Patients left stranded as ambulance dept staff protest over non-payment

2014-05-13 00:00

A MAJOR crisis in the provincial ambulance department yesterday resulted in patients being unable to get help as the entire ambulance staff for the Umgungundlovu region failed to report for duty.

They all either booked off sick or took family responsibility leave in protest against the non-payment of money they say the department has owed them since May last year.

Calls to the 10177 call centre of the Emergency Medical Services base at Grey’s Hospital remained unanswered the entire day.

The protest action affected the central base at Grey’s, Appelsbosch and Howick.

A frustrated Eliot Msomi told The Witness he waited for more than two hours hoping to get an ambulance for his pregnant wife, who he feared might be miscarrying.

“We were only helped by a councillor who came and drove us to hospital where Philile was admitted,” said Msomi. He added that he had been afraid, not knowing what was happening to his wife as he was unable to get an ambulance.

DA councillor Sandy Lyne was the good Samaritan who helped Philile, who had started bleeding. She told The Witness that she had rushed to help the Msomi couple who live in the Sakha informal settlement of Mkhondeni, using her own car as there were no ambulances available.

Other callers to The Witness also complained that they had been forced to use private vehicles to ferry sick people to hospital.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) regional secretary Zimasile Giyama said the environment the staff work under was not a “conducive”.

“We were told that they are all sick,” said Giyama.

He added that the working conditions were contributors to the situation in the department.

Paramedics told The Witness they were each owed more than R25 000 by the department, with amounts differing between staff members.

A woman who did not want to be named said staff had not been paid money they were owed for overtime, night shift, weekends and their public holiday allowance. “Staff decided to be involved in this action to force them to pay. We have negotiated several times but they still don’t pay.”

Health spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi said they had noted with concern that staff did not report for duty.

He added that this has posed a threat to service delivery. “However, the department has swiftly activated contingency plans to ensure that adequate service is provided,” said Mkhwanazi.

When asked to elaborate on what the contingency plans were, he declined to provide details of these. Efforts by The Witness to test the 10177 number to see if it was answered, showed that there was no response on that line up until late yesterday.

ER24 and Netcare 911 spokespersons told The Witness that they had picked up only a few of the patients usually ferried by EMS in the area.

• mlondi.radebe@witness.co.za

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