Close to half of the much-needed state ambulance vehicles in the province are stuck at different depots waiting for repairs, some with complaints as minor as unpaid licence discs, broken door handles and burst tyres.
This is while people are “suffering”, the portfolio committee on transport meeting, which sat in the Eastern Cape legislature this week, was told.
It was revealed that 186 of 406 Emergency Medical Services (EMS) vehicles in the province were due for repairs, some having been off the road for months due to minor problems.
The department of transport in the province, led by MEC Weziwe Tikana, to which the Government Fleet Management Systems (GFMS) is responsible for all provincial government vehicles, got a tongue- lashing from committee members for this.
According to committee member and ANC MPL Mxolisi Dimaza, who also serves as chairman of the portfolio committee on health, it was a “crisis” as many people were “suffering” because of the poor response time by EMS.
His fellow committee member, also an ANC MPL, Busisiwe Makhaula, said it was unacceptable for EMS ambulances to be gathering dust off the road waiting for repairs, especially for minor problems such as a burst tyre “when even I can fix that”, he charged.
Dimaza believes the parked government ambulances may well be the cause of some of the record-breaking medico-legal claims amounting to R14-billion that the troubled provincial department is facing.
The general manager at GFMS, Khanyisa Gazi, defended the department, saying paramedics themselves were to blame for failure to report ambulance breakdowns.
He claimed some paramedics would, when a vehicle in circulation had a burst tyre, replace the tyre by taking one from a vehicle waiting for other repairs, thereby prolonging the repair process.
He said the fact that breakdowns had to be reported via a centralised national call centre was not helping.
Gazi explained how the process worked:
“As a transport officer, when there is a problem with a vehicle I call the call centre. The call centre then books a merchant where the vehicle will be fixed. I then have to give a reference number to the merchant who, after fixing, invoices a national bank and gets paid for the job within seven days.
“It is not a complicated matter.
“But with the current way of doing things, it is unlikely that even in 2019 we will be ready to deal with this problem,” he said.
Gazi continued blaming health employees for failing to report breakdowns, saying GFMS had even set up a WhatsApp group to make things easier but paramedics had not come to the party.
But health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo yesterday hit back saying ambulances were part of government fleets and therefore a responsibility of transport, as health was merely renting the ambulances.
Kupelo conceded that having so many ambulances out of circulation was “threatening and derailing service delivery”.
“We are hoping the speedy delivery of 213 replacement vehicles will ease the pressure because they will come with less need for repairs,” he said.
In this new fleet, Kupelo said, there was a change of brand to one reputed to be better suited to rugged terrains to service rural areas.
According to Gazi, the national centralised call centre at which repairs had first to be lodged was simply not working in the province’s favour.
To this end, GFMS had even toyed with the idea of setting up a provincial call centre.
The portfolio committee chairwoman, Tamara Xhanti, said she was seeking another meeting with transport to delve deeper into the matter as the department’s current turnaround strategy was not convincing. — firstname.lastname@example.org