The state of emergency medical services (EMS) in South Africa is so grave that the South African Human Rights Commission announced a national inquiry will be held.
However, despite the alarming shortage of ambulances in Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Limpopo, a fleet of ambulances is gathering dust in Mpumalanga.
"Given the shortage of ambulances in the province, this is unacceptable," said DA MPL and spokesperson on health and social development Jane Sithole in a statement.
"Chronic staff shortages in the Mpumalanga Department of Health are denying the citizens of this province access to 79 new emergency service vehicles valued at over R43 million that were purchased in the last two financial years."
The DA claims the ambulances have been gathering dust at the dealership due to the department’s failure to appoint EMS personnel.
The health department indicated that 113 operational staff members are in the process of being appointed, however, according to the DA only 20 paramedics have been appointed.
Sithole said in order to make full use of these vehicles, the department needs 325 personnel. She noted that 90 people are needed to man 98 ambulances, 176 people are needed to increase the number of operational ambulances from 90 to 120 and an additional 60 to establish a Planned Patient Transport Service (PPTS) which currently does not exist.
In April this year, the department announced that they had purchased 47 EMS vehicles which include 30 ambulances, three 23-seater PPTS as well as 14 all-terrain response vehicles. This fleet was purchased for over R21 million from the 2014/15 financial year’s budget.
The DA again reiterated its call for Health MEC Gillion Mashego to step down, adding that his neglect of the health department is compromising the lives of Mpumalanga citizens who depend on government for access to healthcare.
"Once again, under the leadership of Mashego, the department’s inability to manage its finances, has resulted in its mandate of providing access to primary healthcare taking a backseat," said Sithole.
At a hearing in April, the South African Human Rights Commission heard heart breaking testimonies on the lack of ambulance services in the rural Eastern Cape. Some residents claimed have never seen an ambulance in their lives, while for others had to watch family members die before their eyes.
Meanwhile, the death of a 47-year-old man in Limpopo has been blamed on the provinces ambulance shortage. According to the Limpopo Department of Health’s latest annual report, the province had one emergency vehicle for every 47 290 residents.
The national target ratio of ambulances to patients is one emergency vehicle per every 10 000 people.