North West health has “revised the scope of work” for private ambulances and finally put to work the 40 new state-owned ones in what appears to be the administrators’ first turn of the tide at the troubled department.
Just like the highly-criticised and the controversial mobile clinic contract dubiously awarded to Mediosa, a Gupta-linked company, the department also came under fire after City Press revealed in February that private ambulance companies were making a killing while it had 40 brand new state ambulances parked with no registration plates and gathering dust for months.
Officials told City Press that the province needed 350 ambulances to operate efficiently but it only had a fleet of about 60.
This later led to questions on why millions were spent on private ambulances by the department instead of using the same money to increase its fleet.
Explanations by the department in February that 40 ambulances were parked for over three months waiting to be registered were also brushed off as lousy.
Now, about seven months since the new ambulances were acquired, the department has announced that they will now hit the road and take services to the people.
This sudden change of mind has been seen as one of the actions and interventions by those now at the helm of the department after it was put under administration over a month ago amid allegations of corruption and tender irregularities.
The department announced on Thursday that Buthelezi and High Care EMS companies will – effective from June 1 2018 – “only respond to cases as and when called to do so by authorised personnel within the department”.
City Press previously reported on allegations that the 40 new ambulances were abandoned to create space for Buthelezi and High Care EMS companies to make millions while the department was not doing much to purchase its own ambulances or at least put those that they have to work.
Buthelezi and High Care were awarded inter-facility contracts to ferry patients between health institutions, while about 60 state-owned ambulances were responsible for house calls and accident scenes or emergencies only.
Officials said this meant that private ambulances were responsible for the largest chunk of work, translating to more money.
This attracted lots of criticism on why more money was spent on private ambulances while the state was not increasing its own fleet and why it left its new ambulances inoperative.
City Press further revealed that Buthelezi was paid not less than R10 million every month while High Care was allegedly making about R4 million a month on two ambulances carrying about 400 patients in the Ganyesa area, an official said.
A document showed that High Care was paid about R14 million over seven months last year – about R2 million a month.
In its response the department said about R45 million was spent on Buthelezi and High Care for the 2016/2017 financial year (R123 803 a day), and R105 million for the 2017/2018 financial year to date (R280 165 a day).
Thursday’s announcement is seen as a way of reducing the slice of the cake for the two private ambulance companies.
This means that the state-owned ambulances will now get to do both inter-facility transfers and emergencies while private ones will only be called in as and when needed.
“Private ambulance service providers will only be utilised in the event when provincial state resources are overstretched.
"In the event that the provincial EMS ambulance in a specific area is busy or does not have the correct level of qualified staff, the EMS coordinator may take the decision to utilise services of private ambulance providers,” the department said in a statement earlier on Thursday.
Department spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane told City Press the department “together with the administrator have developed a turn-around strategy and reducing the scope of work for private ambulances is part of that strategy”.
Lekgethwane added that 40 additional new ambulances were going to be purchased this year as stated by MEC Magome Masike in his budget speech.