Emergency workers from across the province made their voices loud and clear on Wednesday – criminal attacks on their staff must stop. After a spate of attacks on Emergency Medical Service (EMS) workers in the Western Cape, a numbers of paramedics and ambulance staff gathered to voice their frustration. Over 70 incidents of attacks on EMS staff have been reported since the beginning of the year. The attacks sprout from areas in Cape Town that have significant crime rates. The march generated close to 1000 EMS staff members and residents that gathered at Phillipi’s Browns Farm sports field.
“Other than the EMS staff members that showed up to the march, we also had private services members, nurses and the community of Phillipi,” says Pumzile Papu, who is the Western Cape Ambulance Chief.
Papu said other emergency services were raising the same issues as the EMS members were during the march, such as the issue of being attacked while on the job.
“The purpose of the march was to ask the community to protect us because they are the ones that have knowledge of who the culprits are. It was also about making a statement saying that if the ambulance is called by someone at night, that person then needs to make their neighbours wary by waking them up and staying with the ambulance till their job is completed,” states Papu.
Papu says that the attacks are causing delays in delivering services to communities and that attacks are happening in areas where they are needed the most.
He said there are certain hotspots that health staff is now entirely avoiding during the night time.
“During the day we go to all areas, but at night we have areas we have identified as hotspots,” says Papu.
“Some of those areas are Tafelsig, Phillipi, Nyanga, Gugulethu, Crossroads, Kalksteinfontein and Hanover Park.”
EMS workers do not go into those areas at night without being escorted by the police, but sometimes the police are not always available to provide assistance due to other crime that needs to be attended to.
“We sometimes have to wait up to 2-3 hours before a police van arrives. Unfortunately, some of these cases are serious cases, but we cannot go there without police escort. We also do not treat the patients at their homes; they are treated on the way to the hospital because we cannot expect the police to wait for 30 or 40 minutes on scene,” says Papu.
Papu states that having the police escort the EMS has decreased the number of attacks and that no ambulance has been attacked with police by their sides, but stresses that escorting not only causes a delay in hotspot areas, but in the whole of Cape Town.
The Community Policing Forums (CPF) will now also escort EMS staff into crime infested areas.
“Anyone that attacks an ambulance or hijacks an ambulance is not only an enemy of EMS, but an enemy of the community,” states Papu.
“I would like to thank all my colleagues for attending the march; I would also like to let communities know that we are not the enemy and that we are here to help you.”
VOC (Imran Salie)