South Africa: Public Protector Concludes Eastern Cape Leg of Stakeholder Dialogue

press release

Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela on Wednesday requested the management of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) in the Eastern Cape to investigate allegations that a five-hour delay in dispatching an ambulance had resulted in the death of an elderly man in East London the previous day.

This followed a complaint lodged with the Public Protector at Frere Hospital on Wednesday, where she and her Deputy, Adv. Kevin Malunga arrived unannounced in the morning to interact with both patients and staff.

While touring the different sections of the hospital, the Public Protector was approached by a grief-stricken woman, alleging that she had asked for an ambulance at around 13h00 on Tuesday and was repeatedly told that it was on its way when that was not the case.

After 17h00, with no sign of the ambulance in sight, the family gave in and hired a car to ferry their late father to the hospital, where he eventually died, said the teary woman.

"The EMS must investigate why the ambulance made it to the complainant's house even though call centre agents kept on telling her that it was on its way," said the Public Protector. "The hospital must also investigate whether the deceased's life could have been saved had the ambulance arrived on time."

The Public Protector was in the province as part of her office's National Stakeholder Dialogue, which focuses on strengthening government's ability to deliver on Millennium Development Goals, with a particular emphasis on improving healthcare services and eradicating poverty.

On a positive note, the Public Protector was impressed with the visionary leadership hospital Chief Executive Officer, Rolene Wagner, who outlined her plan to address the challenges the facility was facing.

Wagner told the Public Protector that the hospital had recently experienced an increase in the workload and a sharp decrease in staff numbers. This resulted in a slow service, she said.

The hospital lost 93 staffers between January and June 2013 alone while the number of patients experienced an upswing, with the casualty department alone having attended to 10 478 patients in the three months leading to June 2013.

"Some of the staff members that left us were battling with financial difficulties and opted for early retirement," Wagner said. "The shortage of staff and the slow recruitment process then results in high workload for those still in the system."

Wagner said, however, that the hospital had recently appointed more than 100 staff members, who were expected to report for duty on Thursday, 1 August 2013. Meanwhile, other patients at the hospital complained about long waiting periods before they could receive medical attention. They were, however, generally happy with the treatment they got.

At a later meeting with organised stakeholders, the Public Protector received further complaints regarding ambulances that do not arrive on time, insufficient stipends for community-based health care givers; and attitudes of medical staff, shortage of medication and staff at Lady Grey Hospital.

More complaints were received on lack of government support for small scale farmers, lack of government support for local medical suppliers, safety measures for nurses, problems with the coroner's office and vacant nursing posts that were not being filled.

The dialogue moves to Gauteng next week.

Issued by: Public Protector South Africa

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