Picture: 123RF/MARTIN LISNER
Picture: 123RF/MARTIN LISNER

Tshwane’s emergency medical service (EMS) will once again be able to provide life-saving help to the capital city’s residents as the Covid-19 pandemic rages in Gauteng, after the provincial government backtracked, allowing the metro to use its own ambulances.

Tshwane’s more than 70 ambulances were grounded in the beginning of July as a result of the centralisation of Gauteng’s emergency services, just as infections of the coronavirus started surging in the province, which has not yet experienced the peak of the pandemic.

Critics say the centralised process would lead to longer waiting times, which could endanger the lives of those injured in accidents, incidents of crime or medical emergencies.

Providing emergency services is a provincial function but Gauteng had initially outsourced this function to municipalities. It started bringing it back into the province’s fold in 2012, and completed the process at the end of June.  

Despite this shift Tshwane had continued to render supplementary emergency services to residents until July 6, when it was suspended.

Services were suspended after the city’s application for a temporary operation licence was rejected by the province. The decision also affected Tshwane EMS’s more than 300-strong operational staff, including paramedics, as it left the department without direction.

However, on Wednesday Gauteng health spokesperson Kwara Kekana said Tshwane’s EMS will work in collaboration with the province to “combat the surge of the Covid-19 pandemic in the provision of emergency medical services in the Tshwane District”. 

She said the terms were that the province will provide all EMS resources at stations in Bosman, Hatfield, Olievenhoutbosch/Centurion, Pretoria North and Rosslyn at no cost and they “must ensure that all stations are allocated suitably qualified personnel to meet minimum requirements as required by EMS regulations”.

Tshwane’s acting chief of emergencies, Tanja Terblanche, said in a letter to staff on July 19 that emergency medical operations had again started responding to calls. She said the Gauteng health department had granted the metro a temporary operating licence that was valid until the end of January 2021.

“Management would like to offer a word of appreciation to all personnel for remaining calm and reporting for duty during the cessation period, and in the same spirit encourage personnel to continue offering the service with dedication and pride as always,” she said.  

DA Tshwane councillors Bronwynn Engelbrecht and Karen Meyer were pleased with the decision, saying the Tshwane EMS “has proved that it has saved many lives, and many people owe their lives to the heroic actions of the emergency teams”.

They said it was critical that residents, amid the growing pandemic, had the knowledge that they would be transported “quickly, safely, efficiently and effectively” during any emergency.

However, the councilors raised concern over the future of Tshwane’s EMS. “The DA is concerned that the department will not renew Tshwane’s licence in January 2021, even though other private emergency companies have their yearly licences renewed without any fuss,” they said.

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