E Cape cancels air ambulance deal

2010-05-20 12:55

Cape Town - The Eastern Cape health department has cancelled its multi-million rand air ambulance contract following a series of irregularities, spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said on Thursday.

He said the department was expecting a refund of R11m from the contractor, National Airways Corporation (NAC).

Kupelo said the cancellation followed an investigation by the department and forensic accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The probe found that the department had been grossly overcharged for services rendered by the company.

NAC had for example claimed a six hour flight from East London to Mthatha, which was triple the driving time, and six hours back.

The province's head of emergency medical services, Shanks Maharaj resigned in February following revelations of a R95 000 jaunt by officials to a Confederations Cup match in Bloemfontein in an air ambulance at the department's expense.

Rotate companies

Kupelo said the department would now hire air ambulance services on a month-to-month basis, and only as the need arose.

It had identified four companies that it would use in rotation.

Kupelo also said the department would follow "internal disciplinary processes", that could possibly result in dismissal, against 48 ambulance practitioners whose registration with the Health Professions Council (HPC) had lapsed.

The 48 were part of a larger group of 325 suspended without pay last month until they were able to provide proof of registration with the HPC.

Off HPC register

Kupelo said that number had now been reduced to 115, of whom 67 would have to undergo a week-long refresher course before reinstatement on the HPC's register.

The 48 had however been off the HPC register for longer than five years and had "serious problems".

They would have to redo their qualification, the basic ambulance assistant's course, which was likely to run only in October.

"The view of the department is we cannot wait that long," he said. "We'll have to follow internal disciplinary processes."

Kupelo said that separate from the HPC matter, the department had decided to employ another 150 ambulance practitioners to boost emergency services in the province.