The City of Tshwane. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
The City of Tshwane. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

As a result of Gauteng’s bid to centralise its emergency medical services, more than 70 ambulances serving the capital city were grounded last week.

This is at a time when South Africans are bombarded with headlines about the spread of Covid-19, the latest being about SA earning the unwelcome honour of entering the list of the world’s top 10 nations in terms of infections.

Gauteng has overtaken the Western Cape, and its medical facilities and systems are taking the brunt of the burden as infections rise by thousands every day.

If what the province says is to be taken at face value, the Tshwane Emergency Medical Services (EMS) dealt with an average of 53 calls a day between June 2018 and June 2020, which it said was a “relatively very low number”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said SA is in a war against Covid-19, and the decision doesn’t seem to recognise that the conditions require a different approach.

Therefore one can assume that the province does not see it as an important issue that the ambulances are not available during the pandemic, while the more than 300 operational staff working for the Tshwane EMS are left in limbo as the different administrations battle it out over operating licences.

The province is clear that provincialising EMS is not a new decision, which is true. The process started in 2012 and was completed at the end of June.

Officially, the City of Tshwane was already provincialised in 2018. But this is far from the case in reality, as the metro’s EMS halted services a week ago. It has operated under extensions and with temporary licences since then, until a further extension was denied.

It can easily be said that the province was merely following legislation and implemented its decisions taken years ago. EMS is, after all, a provincial function, and it was Gauteng that had subcontracted out this function to its local councils.

But this is not where the outrage lies. It lies in the fact that President Cyril Ramaphosa has said SA is in a war against Covid-19, and the decision doesn’t seem to recognise that the conditions require a different approach.

If one has to continue with the war analogy, then the provincial government has decided not to use more than 70 combat-ready  tanks, with more than 300 soldiers being told to sit on the sidelines because someone did not give them a licence to shoot.

It’s illogical.  

Nothing would stop the provincial government from invoking the exemptions to the requirements in the country’s EMS regulations during this time to ensure that the ambulances can run and the staff can do their critical work while the Covid-19 storm rages.

These are not normal times, and they are well aware of it. Doctors reportedly make public pleas for oxygen, while the five field hospitals that will aim to offer relief to  Gauteng’s congested hospitals are far from complete.

According to a presentation by the province last week, the field hospital in Nasrec in Johannesburg, which is earmarked to have 1,000 beds, will have installed the total by August 14. The field hospital in Daveyton in the East Rand is expected to be completed by July 17. There was no time frame for the one in Tshwane, because the final proposal still had to be submitted. The presentation indicates that there was a legal issue in Tshwane regarding who would sign the service-level agreement for it.

The Tshwane EMS matter, as well as Gauteng’s planned field hospitals not being ready as the peak of the infections comes ever closer, despite the months it had to prepare, are all just symptoms of a bigger issue we have in SA.

We are unable to cut through red tape to ensure that things are done effectively and efficiently. On the contrary, we seem to enjoy rolling around in it, no matter how much it strangles the country’s residents and its economy.  

Unfortunately, in examples such as these, red tape and a lack of effective implementation will be the death of some of us.

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