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EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES

Eastern Cape to face a second festive season without lifesaving ambulance helicopters

Eastern Cape to face a second festive season without lifesaving ambulance helicopters

The troubled ambulance service in the Eastern Cape Department of Health will not have aeromedical support this festive season — for a second consecutive year — due to delays in finalising a tender for the lifesaving service.

The Eastern Cape MEC for health’s “optimistic” deadline to have a functional helicopter ambulance system for the province by June has come and gone, and almost six months later the province’s emergency crews, already extremely short-staffed, face another festive season without air support. 

In 2021, a contract, estimated to be worth at least R110-million, was awarded to Leli Investments, a company that had no aeromedical support experience but had partnered with Black Eagle, a company that did. The joint venture agreement was terminated by Black Eagle but Leli agreed to continue with the service from 1 November 2021. 

“Despite assuming all the obligations to provide the air ambulance services in the agreement of 19 August 2021, Leli Investments has not provided any air ambulance services to the department,” Eastern Cape Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth told the Eastern Cape legislature earlier this year. 

As per the agreement, Leli was given a chance to correct its failures and agreed to start rendering the service on 15 December 2021 — but failed to do so. The department cancelled the service-level agreement on 31 December 2021. 

In February 2022, in her report to the legislature, Meth stressed that the province needed an air ambulance service and said one would be up and running by June. She provided the following timeline: 

  • 21 February 2022: Approval of the demand memo.
  • 28 February 2022: Start of the bid specification process.
  • 4 March 2022: Tender will be advertised, with closure on 4 April.
  • Bid evaluation will start on 15 April, with adjudication on 25 April, review on 30 April and the service commencing on 1 June.

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“A new tender will be issued to the market once the final termination of the contract to Leli Investments is completed,” Meth said.  

But last week, Meth’s spokesperson, MK Ndamase, said the aeromedical tender “was waiting for the evaluation process to be finalised”. 

Ndamase said that at the moment, patients are transported by air ambulance to the Western Cape only during medical emergencies. 

A memorandum by the head of the department, Dr Rolene Wagner, in response to questions in the Eastern Cape legislature, showed that emergency medical services on the ground were not doing well either.  

Vacancy rates in the services, Wagner wrote, were on average at 58% — based on a 15-year-old organogram that was already not providing enough staff for the operational needs of the services. 

Chris Hani District (in the central part of the province around Cradock, Middelburg and Komani) had a 65% vacancy rate. OR Tambo (around Mthatha) had a 44% vacancy rate and the rural Alfred Nzo district had a vacancy rate of 55%. 

Wagner said that to comply with national norms the province needed 671 ambulances but only had 447, of which only 200 are rostered due to staff shortages. The biggest metro in the Eastern Cape, Nelson Mandela Bay, according to this memorandum, should have 121 ambulances but had only 39, of which only 26 can be rostered due to staff shortages.  

The Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson for health in the province, Jane Cowley, said the department’s failure to finalise the tender in time showed the scant regard it has for human life.  

She said road users should be cautioned that they might not have access to emergency services, should they require them. DM/MC

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Roy Haines says:

    Everything is done on ‘Africa time’. In other words, ‘why do today what you can put off forever!’

  • Manfred Hasewinkel says:

    Why does the actual service provider always have to be fronted by a ‘partnership’? Typically, Leli Investments has nothing to contribute except inflating the cost.

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