Government clampdown on private ambulances looms

Durban – Stringent regulations would soon be in place to control the private ambulance services industry, and recommendations have already been accepted by the National Health Council.
Some of the recommendations include:

– all private emergency rescue vehicles to be painted in one colour;

– one contact number for all private ambulance services;

– the nearest ambulance responds to the scene; and

– no provincial demarcations for the different private ambulance services.

This is likely to receive resistance from the operators, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said this week.

In an exclusive interview with the Daily News, Motsoaledi said the department was looking at getting rid of untrained operators who had been contributing to the number of patient injury complications as a result of reckless handling of accident victims.

He said some ambulance companies employed unethical practices when arriving at accident scenes.

“We have been painfully aware of the problems inherited by the department due to the manner in which some of these companies operate. When they get to the scene they don’t rush to check the pulse on patients, they rush for the patients’ pockets.

“They check if patients have medical aid or a credit card. I once said the system used by these private ambulance services can be brutal and worse than the one used during the apartheid system. In the current system, if the patients do not have one of the two cards (medical or credit), they are in trouble,” Motsoaledi said.

He said he had sent a task team to various parts of the world to assess how private ambulances operated and the recommendations of the team have been accepted by the National Health Council.

Leading the team was Professor Lee Wallace, the head of the Division of Emergency Medicine at the University of Cape Town.

Motsoaledi said the team had since submitted its report and recommendations.

“It took the team three years to do the job and their report and recommendations have been accepted by the National Health Council, the highest body in this department. The next step now will be to include the recommendations into the National Health Insurance Bill. It’s going to happen and nothing is going to stop that,” Motsoaledi said.

He said “fly-by-night” private ambulance services abused Sub-Section 3 of Section 27 of the Constitution.

“Section 27 stipulates that health care is a right. Subsection 2 stipulates that the state must do everything within its available resources to ensure that right is adhered to. Subsection 3 is what the fly-by-nights are abusing, which stipulates that nobody may be denied emergency services. Strangely, these unscrupulous operators rush for the pockets of the patients instead of saving lives.

“An ambulance nearer the accident scene must attend to the injured, irrespective of which area of the country it operates from. We also want the private ambulances to have the same colour.

“On this one, a meeting has been proposed by the operators in a threatening tone. They say one colour for all will kill their brands. The team also recommended that there should be no border for ambulance operators,” he said.

The Daily News reported last week that a Ladysmith doctor, who also owns a private ambulance company, had his firearm confiscated by the police for firing a shot into parking area of a private hospital and for pointing his firearm at a competing private operator. They were involved in a scuffle over a patient. The case is still under investigation by the police.

Some ambulance operators said regulating the industry was long overdue.

Rescue Care paramedics spokesperson Garrith Jamieson welcomed the imminent regulation of the industry but was not happy about sharing the same colour with the rest.

“We have literally seen fist-fighting at crash scenes over patients. If you are critical after an accident in Durban Central you are in trouble. Emergency vehicles are not cleaned properly and this results in infections. Handover of vehicles after shifts is done on street corners, with Johannes Nkosi (Alice) Street being the most favoured.

“However, we cannot be happy with the colour issue as this will damage our brand. We are aware of these recommendations and we will look at those areas that require attention for action,” he said.

Crisis Medical Ambulances said the standard of service had changed from patient care to money-making. Spokesperson Kyle van Reenen said: “It’s all about who loads the most patients. I’ve seen weapons drawn at accident scenes. Fly-by-nights go for those with minor injuries while the critical are left behind. The turnaround time for the less injured serves their purpose of being on the road as quickly as possible. Regulating the industry is really needed.”

Dr Vusi Memela, a Board of Healthcare Funders member, said the regulation of the private operators should be accompanied by a code of conduct to ensure that ambushing one another and pointing of firearms at competitors is minimised.

Daily News


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