Better off riding in wheelbarrow to hospital than waiting for ambulance

2015-10-05 06:00

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Either walk 30km to the nearest hospital or be loaded and pushed in a wheelbarrow – because the ambulance is likely not to come until it’s too late. 

These are some of the shocking findings made by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) after it investigated access to emergency medical services in the Eastern Cape. 

The investigation began after a complaint by not-for-profit organisation Bulungula Incubator in 2013, which alleged there was no ambulance service available in Xhora Mouth and many other rural areas in the province, forcing those in need to hire private transport at up to R700 per trip – or walk, be pushed in a wheelbarrow or given a ride in a donkey cart. 

After the findings were released on Thursday, SAHRC deputy chairperson Pregs Govender said the allegations were not at all exaggerated. 

“What we found was shocking,” she said. “We heard of some elderly people who had never seen an ambulance in their entire lives, despite experiencing emergency medical situations. This is unacceptable because it violates the basic human right to health.” 

Dr Prinitha Pillay, programme manager for human resources for health and policy implementation at the Rural Health Advocacy Project, agreed, saying: “What we witnessed was an extreme amount of physical and mental anguish for these communities. Something needs to be done ... We must ensure that this report doesn’t come to nothing.” 

Some of the report’s findings included that: 

. The Eastern Cape has 416 ambulances for 6.6 million people; 

. Of those, only 200 are operational; 

. The emergency services department needs 4 160 paramedics, but only has 3 000 staff; 

. The few ambulances available are operated by “one-man crews”; and 

. The roads are so bad that most ambulances cannot get to patients. 

The Eastern Cape health department acknowledged the findings of the SAHRC, adding that it regretted the poor emergency response around 2013 when the investigation took place. 

But department head Dr Thobile Mbengashe said the quality of healthcare and access to it had improved over the past two years. 

“The provincial government has filled management posts at all levels,” he told City Press. “The number of fully functional ambulances that work 24 hours a day with 10 team members each over the course of a day has increased to 270. Tracking devices have also been installed in ambulances to track where they are so that response times can managed and monitored properly,” he said. 

Read more on:    sahrc  |  eastern cape

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