Extra strain on paramedics causes ripple effect in Atlantis

Community hampered by lack of resources for medical emergencies

CAPE TOWN – Atlantis residents have raised their ire that just one ambulance is available to attend to medical emergencies in the community and surrounding areas.

With just one ambulance stationed in Atlantis and the same ambulance having to cover surrounding areas, the delay in response leaves community members in a vulnerable state.

A source told the Weekend Argus that sometimes patients have to be transferred from the hospital in Atlantis to a hospital in Cape Town and this leaves Atlantis without an ambulance for two or more hours.

As a result of the delay, many family members have lost their loved ones as some do not have the resources to physically take the patients to hospital for treatment.

Community members said, with a week, there have been two instances where people died due to the delay with ambulance response.

In one incidence, a 60-year-old man died as a result of a heart attack.

Family spokesperson Terence Thielman said that the first call was made at 6.50pm, and five calls later they were told that there was no reference number and that none could be given because no ambulances were available in the area.

“What is currently happening in this place is utterly wrong. This is only one of the two incidents that happened in a span of less than a week and trust me, I can tell you that there are many more incidences just like this in Atlantis.

“I think that there is a serious lack of concern amongst those in charge and that is the saddest part of it all. Apart from all the other socio-economic issues that we are currently facing, having to have an emergency care system that is absent when you need them is really crippling family members, because we are left with the ‘What if’ type of questions,” said Thielman.

Teenz Alive SA spokesperson Carol Koopman said that she felt let down and that the community’s grievances were never taken seriously.

“In all honesty, not everyone has the means to take someone to the hospital and unfortunately Atlantis is not safe at night. So even if you’re able to walk to the hospital, it’s not necessarily safe. The family has no choice but to sit and wait. Under these circumstances you have to count yourself very lucky if you make it to the other side alive.”

“I feel let down by the city because it feels like Atlantis and the surrounding areas are very low on the cities priority list. When I was pregnant and I needed an ambulance, a police van picked me up and the officers made me sit in the back like I was a criminal.

“I was more than disappointed, but I also needed to get to the hospital. I feel like the communication needs to be established with the community and take our grievances seriously. It’s literally a matter of life and death when it comes to these time of instances,” said Koopman.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) spokesperson Deanna Bessick said that from the Western Cape perspective, the major problem was staff shortages.

“There are currently far too few ambulances (and EMS personnel) to serve the needs of the South African citizens. This is a perennial problem and is not restricted to EMS workers alone.

“Additional staff appointments are dependent on budget allocations and the employer may not block staff from exiting the service that is of their own accord. At this point in time, departments are faced with difficult decisions around which services to fund first.

“With the current pandemic under way, health budgets have come under severe strain and difficult decisions have to be made. It is thus unlikely that the shortage of ambulances and staff will be addressed in the short to medium term.

“The current surge in Covid-19 cases is unfortunately impacting our performance targets. Certain staff members have been removed from operations and have been redeployed due to vulnerable statuses and are performing other functions within the service – this is in line with our occupational health and safety protocols.

“Hospitals under severe pressure also impact EMS turnaround times as delays are experienced when moving patients between facilities. Additionally, attacks on EMS officials whilst fulfilling their essential line of duty daily, in the Western Cape province, also plays a huge role as well,” said Bessick.

She added that the dire conditions they are currently finding themselves in has placed the EMS and healthcare services under severe strain and that they were doing their best to with the limited resources at their disposal.

“We are looking at ways to fund strategic initiatives to deal with the current 3rd and possible 4th wave of Covid-19 infections. The department has contracted private EMS services in the past, as part of the Covid-19 contingency plan. Such interventions provide relief to EMS covering staff members.”

Weekend Argus