No law to regulate ‘cash only’ private ambulance services

2011-09-15 00:00

THERE is nothing stopping the owner from converting a panel van into an ambulance and operating it without a practice number in a “cash only” business, because there is no law governing private ambulance services.

So said a senior manager of a private ambulance concern in response to a question from The Witness about how prospective businesspeople enter such a line of business and how they are examined to ensure public safety.

The question was raised following a written response to a parliamentary question put by Democratic Alliance MPL Mark Steele to Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo.

The MEC confirmed that there is no accreditation nor assessment for such a service stipulated because there was no law to govern such concerns.

Ben Johnson, the general manager of operations at ER24 EMS, a private ambulance service operator affiliated to the JSE-listed Medi-Clinic group, confirmed that the Western Cape is the only province so far to propose legislation to govern ambulance services.

“The draft legislation went to public comment earlier this year and is expected to be signed into law by the end of the year.”

Johnson said the Board of Healthcare Funders has a basic list of equipment needed for an ambulance to operate and this is used as the basis to issue a once-off practice number.

“One only needs a practice number if you want to bill a medical aid scheme, the Workmen’s Compensation Act and the Road Accident Fund.

“There is nothing stopping someone converting a panel van into an ambulance and then operating without a practice number, as long as they run a ‘cash-only’ business.”

He said the Health Professions Council of South Africa legislates for paramedics in the ambulance, not the ambulance service itself.

Reacting to the MEC’s response, Steele said it is disturbing that there is no legislation governing private ambulance services. He called on Dhlomo to intervene.

In an interview with The Witness, Dhlomo said the regulation of private ambulance services is a national competence “as private ambulances operate across the country”.

At the time of going to print a spokesperson for the national Health Department, Fidel Hadebe, said he is still investigating how the private ambulance service is being governed.

Johnson said that to ensure that high standards are maintained at ER24, each branch undergoes an internal audit every quarter and an external audit every three years.

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