Ambulances in repair shops for months waiting for invoices to be paid

Derelict health department vehicles.
Derelict health department vehicles.

Broken-down ambulances are a worry for Eastern Cape Health MEC, Sindiswa Gomba.

In her 2019-20 budget and policy speech late last year, Gomba said there several broken ambulances sitting at vehicle service centres across the province and this had a negative impact on service delivery.

Transport department sources told the Dispatch that the province was supposed to operate a fleet of close to 700 ambulances, but it was down to just over 400. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some ambulances, in good working order, gathered dust for months in repair shops which would not release them until the department paid the invoices.

“Most of these ambulances are new and have not reached 30,000km on the clock. They would have taken a day to be fixed by these dealerships, but instead are stuck there for a month or more,” said a worker, based in Mthatha.

The worker blamed bureaucrats. “Some of the vehicles are there just for a change of plugs and oil filters but are kept there for weeks.”

Gomba, in her budget and policy speech, criticised the repair delays and hinted that the problem lay within the government departments of health, and transport.

 “I must make it clear that we have a problem where our ambulances are kept for a long time at these garages and that is making our work difficult. This is a problem and we are looking at it,” said Gomba.

Another paramedic said health department staff battled to get ambulances from the transport department.

“Workers at the transport department don't feel the pressure we face, as they are not an essential service department. We face these problems because our health department is failing or refusing to have ambulances under their wing.”

The Dispatch understands that plans are afoot to remove the administration of ambulance services from the transport department to the health department.

Health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said the transport department should answer for delays in servicing ambulances. “The delay in servicing these vehicles has a bad impact on our work but the transport department should answer for the delays. But on the other hand, we have issues with reckless driving where (new) emergency vehicles have to be decommissioned (scrapped) within weeks. We don't own these vehicles but rent them. It also affects us if ambulances sit in garages and are not fixed,” said Kupelo.