Ambulances: No funds to fit new ones

2013-06-25 00:00

TWO brand new Vito vans have allegedly been gathering dust for more than a year because the army’s Presidential Medical Unit (PMU) does not have money to fit them as VIP ambulances.

The vans were bought to be converted into intensive care units similar to the one that broke down in the middle of the night with former president Nelson Mandela on the N1 highway two weeks ago.

Sister paper Beeld has learned that the PMU had been renting an ambulance from a private contractor because the military ambulances are run down and sometimes out of action. The ambulances are often used in high speed VIP cavalcades and driven over dirt roads, which contributed to their general rundown state.

The unit bought four new Vito vans more than a year ago. One was converted into a luxury hearse, while the other was equipped to transport VIP family members.

There was an uproar this weekend when it became known that the ambulance that transferred a very sick Mandela from Johannesburg to a Pretoria hospital on June 8 broke down with engine trouble on the N1.

Graça Machel, Mandela’s wife who was with him in the ambulance, was reportedly frantic with worry as they waited more than half an hour for another ambulance on a cold winter’s night.

Mandela was then transferred between the two ambulances.

Presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj denied that Mandela’s life was endangered by the poorly-maintained ambulance. He said seven doctors accompanied the convoy and constantly monitored Mandela’s condition.

The PMU is still in charge of Mandela’s medical care while he is in a private hospital.

Meanwhile, a special wing at 1 Military Hospital that had been specially equipped for Mandela and other VIPs, has never been used because of deficiencies in the hospital’s infrastructure.

The PMU’s medical corps is based at the Union Buildings in order to react quickly to any incidents involving visiting VIPs and is tasked with the medical care and transport of Mandela and other VIPs.

Although the presidency confirmed the ambulance broke down, the army yesterday refused to provide details.

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