Joburg faces R130m ambulance budget cut
Already bedraggled service will also have the licence to operate its emergency vehicles pulled
The City of Johannesburg’s emergency medical service –already critically constrained by a dearth of staff, emergency vehicles and resources – may have another battle on hand.
Since 2006, the city has run an ambulance service on behalf of the Gauteng provincial government for an annual fee of R130m.
But in April the provincial government announced it was pulling its funding and support as part of the “provincialisation” of the EMS, taking with it the department of health licence that the city was using to operate their emergency vehicles.
The move comes just two months before tightened licensing regulations, enforced by the department, come into effect on June 1.
With the deadline looming and without a valid licence to operate the emergency medical service, city fathers have applied for their own operating licence and the scramble is on to refurbish infrastructure to ensure compliance.
Operators who do not comply could have their licence cancelled or suspended.
Any operator found guilty of contravening the regulations “faces a fine not exceeding R500,000 and or imprisonment not exceeding five years”.
The decision also comes as the city, which spans 334km² and is home to 28 fire stations, still operates with just 13 fire engines.
Cancelled contracts, alleged to have been mired in allegations of corruption, have left the fire service limping.
A tender to supply the trucks was advertised and awarded, but in March, days before the announcement of the winning bid, the supplier pulled out.
The process will now start afresh.
The ambulance service is also flagging, with only 60 of its 101 ambulances working, Michael Sun, MMC for public safety in the City of Johannesburg, admitted earlier.
He said the province’s move to pull its funding and licence came as a surprise.
“City of Johannesburg EMS requested that the provincial government provide certain documentation – including the decision to provincialise – in order to make an informed decision. No documentation has been received as to date,” he said.
“The city is looking at the possibility of operating its fully owned and licensed ambulance service. In such event, the COJ will be applying for registration with various authorities such as the national department of Hhealth and Board of Healthcare Funders,” he added.
“We will continue to engage with (the provincial government) and ensure that if the provincialisation of ambulance service is to go ahead, possible disruptions of the services are minimised and the process made known to the public.”
Gauteng health spokesperson Lesemang Matuka confirmed receipt of questions and undertook to respond, but never did.
National health spokesperson Popo Maja referred queries back to Matuka.
‘Out of business’
Oliver Wright, of the South African Private Ambulance & Emergency Services Association, said the new regulations were already in effect, with the health department giving providers until June to ensure compliance.
“The various provinces are in the process of accepting applications for licences in terms of the new regulations and the inspection process is under way.”
He said in the meantime services could continue.
He said the regulations – when enforced – would likely run some ambulance companies out of business.
Some ambulance services, virtually operating from a patch of grass at the roadside without proper equipment or sufficiently qualified staff, would not pass muster, he said.
“The regulations are going to enforce consistency in EMS that we haven’t had. There are good and bad services. This will offer a better level of service for every patient that they treat,” Wright said.