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EMS strike leaves Tshwane patients stranded

Written by Tshilidzi Tuwani

When Nomhle Matshaya tried to call an ambulance for a sick patient this week, she was on hold for one hour and 15 minutes before she gave up. The community health care worker at Hammanskraal’s Refentse Drop-in Centre was only one of many likely affected by an on-going Emergency Medical Services (EMS) strike.

Ambulance services have been particularly affected in rural Tshwane areas such as Hammanskraal, Mabopane and Temba, according to DA Shadow MEC for Health Jack Bloom.

Ambulance services have been particularly affected in rural Tshwane areas such as Hammanskraal, Mabopane and Temba, according to DA Shadow MEC for Health Jack Bloom.

Matshaya had called an ambulance after she and another woman arrived at a home-based care patient’s home and found the woman in a poor condition.

“We found the patient very sick with a heavily swollen stomach,” said Matshaya, adding that the woman was struggling to breathe. “We decided to call the ambulance using the 1077 number however we were kept on hold for an hour and 15 minutes until we hung up.”

On Monday the Democratic Alliance’s Shadow MEC for Health Jack Bloom released a statement alleging that Tshwane ambulance staff had gone on strike due to pay grievances that have been allegedly ignored by the Gauteng Department of Health.

He added that ambulance services were particularly affected in rural areas such as Hammanskraal, Mabopane and Temba.

Manager of Temba’s Leratong Mission Centre, Anna Matlala, said that the strike challenged the small non-profit’s ability to provide care to its patients and could prove especially dangerous for pregnant women.

“There’s always patients who need ambulances to go to hospital,” she said. “I had a pregnant women who also needed an ambulance and (the lack of ambulances) risks her baby’s survival.”

Bloom has alleged the Gauteng Department of Health has no plan to deal with the strike’s resulting gap in service delivery.

“Gauteng emergency services do not seem to have a back-up plan for this essential service,” said Bloom in the statement. “This strike action is putting many lives in danger and must be resolved as soon as possible.”

Bloom warned that strike organisers had promised the protest action would spread to other parts of Gauteng.

Lack of overtime pay, wage gaps prompted strike[quote float=”left”]“Our services will be kept on hold until we have resolved the issue of overtime payments”

According to one EMS worker who spoke on condition of anonymity, the grievances including unpaid overtime work date back to as early as 2007.

Rafedile Fidel is a paramedic at Pretoria’s Prinshof ambulance station and has become a spokesperson for striking workers.

“Our services will be kept on hold until we have resolved the issue of overtime payments,” he said.

In a memorandum, striking workers also sight alleged pay discrepancies as fodder for the strike.

“The municipalities’ workers are earning more than what workers in provincial (positions) are earning,” said Fidel, who called wage gaps “divisive.” “We believe that isn’t fair because we are all of us doing the same job.”

The Gauteng Department of Health met with strikers on Monday and Tuesday, according to department spokesperson Prince Hamnca.

“Gauteng Department of Health views interruption of services on a serious note and does not condone such an exercise as it endangers people’s lives,” Hamnca told OurHealth. “The Department will investigate some of the issues raised in the meeting and while that action is on-going, employees are expected to resume their duties and function as normal.”– Health-e News Service.

About the author

Tshilidzi Tuwani

Tshilidzi Tuwani is an OurHealth Citizen Journalist reporting from Gauteng's Tshwane Health District.