Life support system under pressure as paramedics opt for lucrative overseas jobs

2014-04-08 00:00

A SHORTAGE in advanced life support (ALS) paramedics is putting the system in KwaZulu-Natal under significant pressure, with South Africa’s most experienced paramedics being offered lucrative contracts around the world. And Durban is no different.

The provincially-run emergency medical service tends to approximately 75% of all medical emergencies in Durban and on average responds to nearly 1 000 calls in the city per day.

On any given shift in Durban, the KZN Department of Health-funded Emergency Medical Rescue Services (EMRS) operates over 30 vehicles, including ambulances and rapid response, who each complete between eight and 15 call-outs in a 12-hour shift.

According to the Private Ambulance and Emergency Services Association (Sapaesa), the private sector ambulance services operate 100 ambulances in the greater Durban area and complete three to eight calls a night.

Central Durban EMRS ALS medic Dushie Brijall, who has worked in public health since 1992, told The Witness that lucrative contracts — paying a minimum of $300 (around R3 150) per day — make keeping the experienced medics increasingly difficult. An ALS medic in state employment earns approximately R30 000 per month.

“Working in the public sector is a calling for me and many others, but in the last year I know of three ALS medics who have taken such contracts. They end up working on oil rigs or mines,” he said.

Another medic told The Witness that working in KZN is “much better than other provinces” which face critical shortages in stock, staff and expertise.

CEO of Sapaesa, Oliver Wright, said the private sector is experiencing similar shortages.

“We also face problems in attracting ALS medics who often leave for first world countries or work contracts in third world states,” said Wright.

Countrywide there are approximately 1 500 ALS medics while fewer than 20 are employed in the eThekwini Metro by the public sector.

But EMRS spokesperson Robert McKenzie said the public service is doing everything it can to give state patients the best medical care.

“We have dedicated staff on the road and in the control room. The ALS is, through our state-of-the-art control room, then prioritised to the more serious cases where their skills are required,” said Mckenzie.

He said depending on the emergency, a response time can be as quick as a few minutes.

He said there has been a “shift” within the EMRS and Department of Health to show the public that their needs are at the core of their operations.

“We are not perfect but the staff are dedicated and want to help as many people as they can.”

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