Media Release: Whole-of-society must play a part in EMS safety
Today Minister Dr. Nomafrench Mbombo, Minister Dan Plato and Alderman JP Smith outlined key interventions to improve safety for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff.
While safety remains the primary responsibility of the SAPS and the national Minister of Police, the whole-of-society is required to create safe environments which enable people to access the healthcare they require.
Minister Mbombo said: “as a responsive government, we had revisit the drawing board to determine what more could be done to improve the current interventions. The provincial cabinet took a resolution to dedicate resources from the Department of Community Safety to aid with this challenge. This crisis requires a whole-of-society approach – a coordinated effort is required to end this scourge” said Minister Mbombo.
“That is why the cabinet took a decision to call for the deployment of the SANDF in terms of section 19 of the Defence Act, to act as a force multiplier and assist the SAPS, who are clearly under immense pressure and poorly resourced where they are needed most,” Minister Mbombo said.
Minister Mbombo said : “Our call has been clear, the SANDF are not intended to replace the role of the SAPS, but to provide additional resource. It is encouraging to note the Police Minster’s commitment to this process and we hope the President will expedite this deployment. Greater coordination between the various spheres of government is required to restore confidence in our ability to deliver services uninterrupted” said Minister Mbombo.
Currently, areas classified as Red Zones include: Browns Farm Philippi, Tafelsig, Beacon Valley, Hyden Park, Nyanga, Gugulethu, New Crossroads, Manenberg, Hanover Park, Bonteheuwel, Langa Northern: Kalksteenfontein, Elsies River and Chicago (Paarl); Site C Khayelitsha, J-Section Lingelethu.
In these Zones, ambulance crews are not allowed to enter these zones without the SAPS escort.
Minster Dan Plato said: “The Department of Community Safety has been actively involved in support of emergency medical staff safety since February this year. After an initial assessment my Department immediately assisted in ensuring that the EMS service operates within the broader safety umbrella in the city. The Department was instrumental in establishing an EMS safety desk at the City of Cape Town’s Transport Management Centre which allows for EMS response teams to be linked in real time to the closest law enforcement or police deployed”.
“Just more than a month ago, one of the suspects involved in the attempted robbery of EMS staff in Khayelitsha was sentenced to 12 years direct imprisonment. Key to this sentence was the fact that the court recognised the impact of such attacks on the ability of the Western Cape Government to provide critical services to especially poor communities. The court also recognised the direct and negative impact of such opportunistic crimes on the EMS members of staff and the trauma it causes,” said Minister Plato.
The Department of Community Safety played a significant role in facilitating the process required to put such evidence before the court in aggravation of sentence. This forms part of a comprehensive strategy which is being implemented by the Departments of Health and Community Safety and which strategy is aimed at improving the safety of EMS staff in an sustainable manner. This confirms that EMS staff is no longer a soft target and that court shall deal harshly with perpetrators of crimes against EMS staff.
“Safety is everyone’s responsibility and we all need to help keep those safe who stand in service of the people of this province. I urge communities to protect our EMS staff, police, firefighters, law enforcement and municipal staff when they work in your community,” Minister Plato said.
Other critical interventions to improve safety include:
· Situational Awareness training: The Department is piloting an anti-hijacking training for all EMS staff. This is to build resilience in our staff so that they can have a feeling of greater control while faced with these situations;
· Targeted training around the hotspots: Because of these attacks our operations and communication centre team has been pro-actively identifying hot-spots in collaboration with the SAPS.
· Transport Management Centre (TMC): The Department of Health has engaged with the City of Cape Town to place a resource in the Transport Management Centre (TMC) to monitor the Red Zones and alert the ambulances when entering a Red Zone. Supervisors on duty must liaise with TMC and the SAPS Station Commander where there is a call in the RED ZONE for SAPS to escort the crew in and out of the area safely;
· Greater Community Participation: we realize that it is crucial to get the co-operation of the community in ensuring the safety of EMS and other staff. An attack on EMS is an attack on the entire community. It causes the whole community to suffer: fewer ambulances are available and they take longer to respond where needed most.
· Use of CCTV: There has also been a greater engagement with anti-crime initiatives linked to CCTV footage, these CCTV cameras will ensure that perpetrators are caught in their act.
· Vehicle Safety: All ambulance vehicles have additional safety mechanisms including:
o Smash and Grab: All ambulance vehicles have tinted smash and grab windows, this includes the patient compartment and retro fit;
o Panic button: We are constantly testing the panic buttons in all vehicles to check their status while exploring panic buttons that transmit a message directly to the SAPS; and
o Tracking system: All ambulance vehicles have a tracking system and its responsiveness has improved.
· Community Police Forums (CPF's): The Department is also actively engaging Community Police Forums (CPF's)and neighborhood watches. These structures are actively involved in ensuring staff safety. Most neighborhood and CPFs have active whatsapp groups where they constantly communicate. In addition to this we have trained a number of CPF members on First Aid to be better prepared for any casualties that might occur within the communities.
Alderman JP Smith said: “Although crime prevention is the primary function of national government, the City and Provincial government cannot stand by while staff are attacked. The City has been putting plans place to protect City staff from being the victims of crime, especially the more vulnerable staff like Fire and Emergency Rescue Services who are not armed, and we have now partnered with the Provincial government to do what we can to assist their emergency staff who deliver critical services to the people of Cape Town”.
Minster Mbombo said: “ we remain committed to providing world class health services to our people. In this processes, the safety of our EMS staff will take priority as they play an integral role in the healthcare system”.
“We remain grateful to the brave men and women who go above and beyond the call of duty to keep the Western Cape a healthy province. And I urge the whole-of-society to partner with us as we endeavour to create the safe environment we wish to live in,” said Minister Mbombo.