Emergency staff and pathology labs face ‘challenges’ in dealing with SAPS

By Suné Payne 15 August 2019

Emergency services personnel help a patient at the Mitchell's Plain District Hospital. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

SAPS in the Western Cape came under fire again on Wednesday — this time not from politicians or communities, but from emergency and pathology services.

The relationship between forensic services and policing in the Western Cape came under the spotlight in the provincial legislature on Wednesday morning. It was not only that relationship which came under fire, but also the relationship between police and emergency services.

How is the relationship with SAPS (South African Police Service)?” asked Reagan Allen, Democratic Alliance member of the provincial health committee. Allen wanted to know if there were any issues the Western Cape Forensic Pathology Services had with SAPS while waiting for the police to finish collecting evidence before pathology services could remove bodies.

Pathology services director Vonita Thompson said there were “ongoing challenges that we have to manage”. She said working with services such as the Provincial Police Ombudsman and the Department of Community Safety helped strengthen the gap between SAPS and the pathology services.

Thompson was among provincial forensic pathology services officials who briefed the standing committee on health. There are 17 forensic pathology services across the Western Cape.

Between April 2018 and March 2019, pathology services dealt with 11,816 cases at pathology facilities across the province, at an average of 985 cases a month. Of these cases, the Salt River and Tygerberg Hospital forensic pathology laboratories dealt with 8,417 cases, or 71% of the total.

Thus far, between April and July, there had been an average of 1,062 cases a month, with July tallying 1,032 cases across the province.

But Thompson and her department are not the only ones that have problems with the SAPS. Shahiem de Vries, Head of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the province, said in the same committee meeting that in “red zones”, ambulance officials often had to wait for lengthy periods for police assistance to enter certain communities.

Red zones require the following: an area needs to be declared “safe” for emergency personnel to enter, and SAPS personnel should accompany service personnel when entering a red zone. If there was no SAPS presence, EMS staff should wait at police stations for an escort.

Cape Town areas which have been identified as red zones include Brown’s Farm (Philippi), Tafelsig and Beacon Valley (both in Mitchell’s Plain), Manenberg, Nyanga, Hanover Park, Site C and J-Section in Lingelethu (both in Khayelitsha).

These arise from emergency personnel having been targeted when entering these high-risk areas and robbed of their belongings. In March 2019, EWN reported that two paramedics were robbed at gunpoint in Khayelitsha while responding to a call. DM


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