Maverick Citizen

Maverick Citizen Eastern Cape

Only two ambulances for Covid-19 patients in Nelson Mandela Bay

Only two ambulances for Covid-19 patients in Nelson Mandela Bay
A state ambulance leaves Uitenhage Provincial Hospital in Nelson Mandela Bay. (Photo: Mike Holmes)

There are only two ambulances transporting Covid-19 patients in Nelson Mandela Bay and only 12 operational vehicles. The Health Department has confirmed the state of affairs. Recently two patient transport vehicles for inter-facility transfers have been added to help move Covid-19 patients to isolation facilities or the field hospital. In addition, 19 Emergency Medical Services officials have tested positive for Covid-19 at the Dora Nginza Hospital base from where the service is operated.

Nelson Mandela Bay has only two state ambulances for the transport of Covid-19 patients — one is operating in Port Elizabeth and the other in Uitenhage.

The metro is one of the provincial hotspots for the outbreak of coronavirus infections with 10,442 patients having tested positive, 5,424 recoveries and 136 deaths.

Eastern Cape Department of Health spokesperson Siyanda Manana confirmed that there were only 12 vehicles on the road. He said that only one ambulance in Port Elizabeth was conveying Covid-19 patients and one in Uitenhage, but that two patient transport vehicles were added this week. Manana said 19 officials at Emergency Medical Services (EMS) were sick with Covid-19.

In June, Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize said in a written answer to a parliamentary question that the metro had 40 operational ambulances.

Nelson Mandela Bay had been highlighted as a metro with a severe shortage of ambulances by the South African Human Rights Commission in a 2015 report. Investigators found that the services had only 10% of the vehicles it needed — at the time the service also had 12 only vehicles available.

“While the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality hosts the second-biggest population in the province, it has the smallest number of operational ambulances. Only 12 ambulances are available to serve a population in excess of one million — 10% of the required number,” the report read.

The deputy chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign in the province, Thembisile Nogampula, said the shortage of ambulances in the metro was disastrous.

“We have been crying for many years over ambulances,” he said. “Covid-19 has exposed the Department of Health in so many ways.”

“One family who lives in Uitenhage called for an ambulance and it never came. Eventually, she was taken to the hospital by a family member. After that, an ambulance did take her to the stadium (the local isolation facility). She only survived because her family was able to help her on time. You can only imagine what would have happened if the family did not act swiftly,” said Nogampula.

“It is not only the ambulances that are a problem. This person had her mom with her in her house. Her mommy is 90 years old. She is now back home and doing well, but her mom has never been tested.

“The pandemic is at its most dangerous as we speak,” said Nogampula.

He said ambulances should be based at community health centres.

“It just isn’t acceptable to only have one ambulance for all these people.”

Health services in Aliwal North were closed due to Covid-19 infections and the ambulance base and emergency call centre in that town had shut down. Other bases in neighbouring towns had to be called in. The local hospital and clinic were also temporarily closed due to Covid-19.

Democratic Alliance provincial spokesperson for health Jane Cowley said the desperate shortage of functional ambulances in the province remains a huge problem — despite the issue repeatedly being raised at the health portfolio committee.

“It seems that no tangible steps have been taken to remedy the situation. Ambulances are still repaired in government fleet management facilities, which are overwhelmed by the workload, and sometimes these repairs take months to complete. All EMS vehicles should be prioritised and should have access to private repair services if necessary, to keep the majority of the fleet on the road at any given time,” Cowley said.

“Currently, many frontline workers, including paramedics and Emergency Medical Service technicians, have been laid low by the Covid-19 virus. This means that there is also a shortage of personnel to manage the service. It seems there is no EMS staff replacement schedule in place to ensure that the service is not disrupted.

“Sadly this has meant that even less vehicles and personnel are available to assist in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. It is unfathomable to think that currently there is just one ambulance available to transport Covid-19 patients in Port Elizabeth and one in Uitenhage,” said Cowley.

“Realistically, the EMS system and the health system in general had all but collapsed before this deadly virus reached our shores. The pandemic has just exposed all the fatal cracks in the system. Years of weak leadership and maladministration in the top echelons of the department have brought health service delivery to its knees in the province. Tragically, it is the frontline and EMS workers, as well as the man on the street, who pay for this collapse, sometimes with their lives,” she said.

Problems with access to state ambulances are also now emerging elsewhere in the province.

Health services in Aliwal North were closed due to Covid-19 infections and the ambulance base and emergency call centre in that town had shut down. Other bases in neighbouring towns had to be called in. The local hospital and clinic were also temporarily closed due to Covid-19.

Ntsiki Mpulo from the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition said it had become very difficult to get information on the availability of ambulances. She said their members are told that managers are hesitant to send out ambulances as they often end up having nowhere to take the patient because many hospitals are turning patients away. DM/MC


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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