A night with EMS

The two graphs show staff attacks and time of attacks occurred in 2015. The graphs were supplied by the Western Cape Health Department.

There are four to nine attacks on paramedics each month in Cape Town, according to the Department of Health, but despite some neighbourhoods being virtual no-go areas for ambulances, emergency staff still feel they have a job to do and they’re out there doing it.

There were 67 attacks on paramedics across Cape Town last year.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) spokesman Robert Daniels said several of these attacks had been in the Mitchell’s Plain area including Beacon Valley, Eastridge, Tafelsig, Heinz Park and Lentegeur. Most of the paramedics were attacked between midnight and 3am.

The issue was brought to light by the department at the provincial legislature on Tuesday February 7.

Mr Daniels said there were red zones, in certain parts of the City where EMS staff could only go under a police escort. In Mitchell’s Plain, Tafelsig is a red zone.

But that hasn’t stopped the paramedics going out when they’re needed: the EMS paramedics responded to 178 priority incidents in October last year, 160 in November and 161 in December, in Tafelsig alone.

The Plainsman accompanied the EMS paramedics in Mitchell’s Plain, Manenberg, Heideveld and Observatory on Friday February 10. The shift started at 7pm with a parade, where the paramedics were briefed about their roles and duties for the 12-hour shift. Members were neatly dressed and made sure that they had their equipment for the evening.

The first two stops were calls where two people were dead on arrival. At around 7.30pm, the EMS staff attended a call in Manenberg where a 68-year-old woman died of natural causes.

A paramedic, checked the body and then interviewed the two family members. Completing the relevant paperwork, she immediately prepared for the next call in Lentegeur.

The second was also a dead-on-arrival scene, where a man lay on his bed, stiff with his eyes open.

Residents moaned about the delay in arrival. “Only now! We called long time already,” they said. The paramedic checked the body and questioned the family members. She told the angry residents the ambulance service was short-staffed.

Without any breaks, the next call was to Heideveld Community Health Centre, where patients needed to be transferred. One was a psychiatric patient and the other was a patient who miscarried. As the psych patient was taken into the ambulance he, jumped out of his bed and started running. The paramedics got hold of him and sedated him.

By midnight the paramedics had transferred the patients to Groote Schuur Hospital and were ready for the next call.

One of the paramedics said: “For 12 hours we are on call. If we have a break, we are lucky. We do this because we love our job and because we are able to help people, and save lives. The downside is the attacks, because it is our lives at risk. But if we don’t go out, what happens to the patients,” he said.

Check out video on the Plainsman Facebook Page.