29 November 2012

South Africa: Free State Patients Wait Hours for Ambulances

Bethlehem — Poor service by the Free State Emergency Services (EMS) have negatively impacted the lives of several patients.

OurHealth spoke to Tholoana Thoote (29) during a recent visit to the Mphohadi Clinic in Bethlehem. The patient was very sick and in a lot of pain. She has been waiting for an ambulance to take her to Phekolong Hospital for hours. “My husband has been calling for an ambulance since 4am,” said Thoote. “We were told one was being sent to our house, but no ambulance arrived.

When there was still no sign of an ambulance by 7am, Thoote was rushed to the nearest clinic (Mphohadi) in the hope that they might be able to assist. Unfortunately Thoote’s condition was too serious for the nurses at the clinic to treat and they called for an ambulance to take her to hospital where she can be helped by a doctor.

“The past few weeks we have been struggling to get ambulances to collect patients who need to go to hospital from our clinic,” said one of the nurses at Mphohadi clinic who wants to remain anonymous. “Last week I had a patient with burns covering most of her body, and she desperately needed to be taken to hospital. We waited hours before an ambulance could collect her, and by the time it arrived the patient's family had already made alternative arrangements to transport her to the hospital.”

After several calls from the clinic, Thoote’s ambulance finally arrived at 10:22 – more than six hours after the first call for help. Thoote’s family later reported that she suffered a stroke. “If only I could afford alternative transport, I would have arranged something,” said Thoote’s sister, Seithati. “Maybe then Tholana would have gotten to hospital in time and could be treated earlier.”

Two other patients at the Phekolong Hospital, who want to stay anonymous, also complained about having waited several hours before ambulances came to collect them. They both suffered injury and had to be treated in the emergency ward.

According to a source at the Free State EMS in Bethlehem, delays occur when the emergency services receive inaccurate information. The call to the emergency services first goes to the EMS head office in Bloemfontein (272km away from Bethlehem). The head office will then call the local ambulance services in Bethlehem with directions of where to collect the patient, but because they are not familiar with the area they often provide inaccurate directions, causing delays. "But I have to admit, the shortage of ambulances probably contribute the most to the delays," the source concluded.

Selloane Molakeng is the OurHealth Citizen Journalist reporting from the Thabo Mofutsanyana health district in the Free State.

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