5 September 2018

South Africa: Almost Half of Limpopo's Ambulances Are Standing Idle

About three out of four specialist health worker posts are vacant in the embattled province.

Almost 40% of Limpopo's ambulances are not operational, new information obtained by Aids lobby group the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) reveals.

The TAC released a May report detailing the state of healthcare in seven provinces, including Limpopo. The document cited concerns including an alleged hiring freeze in the health department, a shortage of operating theatres at Pietersburg Provincial Hospital and mounting unpaid overtime for scarce doctors.

The TAC also discovered that the province of 5.8-million was reliant on just 233 vehicles.

In response to the report, the Limpopo health department handed over a document that exposes the extent of unfilled posts in the province. Only about half of emergency medical services positions have been filled, leaving the province short of about 1 500 emergency medical service workers. Among specialists, the vacancy rate is about 77%.

Earlier this year, Bhekisisa revealed that there was not a single radiation oncologist left in the province's sector to treat cancer, according to April figures obtained by the South African Society of Clinical and Radiation Oncology.

The province aims to provide one ambulance for every 29 000 people, according to its 2017/2018 report. In his response, Limpopo health department head Ntsie Kgaphole says that the department has met its target and now there is one ambulance for every 27 297 citizens.

The TAC argues that the lack of ambulances forces patients to make substantial out-of-pocket payments to get emergency care, often having to pay neighbours to transport them in privately owned cars.

"For those who are unable to pay for these services, they have no option other than to wait for an ambulance, which often takes hours to arrive or does not arrive at all," the TAC's report states.

In efforts to fill emergency service vacancies, the Limpopo department of health is currently training five people in advanced life support and hopes to attract more emergency medical service workers, Kgaphole said in his written responses to the TAC.

The TAC's provincial manager, Moses Makhomisani, says that this is not enough.

"The number [of people being trained] is very worrying. It means they might be distributed across the province, one per district. We need more people in the programme."

In February, the province saw nurses embarking on protest action after the department failed to secure their placements in state-mandated community service. Nurses must complete community service before they can register to practise in South Africa.

More than five months later, the province says more than 90% of community services positions for professional nurses remain unfilled.

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