The issue of safety for paramedics in South Africa, but particularly in Cape Town, cannot be stressed enough. It is well known that the threat of violence and robbery against emergency medical service officials in the city at times prevents paramedics from arriving in dangerous areas soon enough to save lives and sometimes discourages them from wanting to enter these areas at all. In response to this, the Western Cape Government’s Department of Health is looking to form partnerships with communities in areas that have been identified as high risk, aiming to ensure that paramedics are safe when reporting to these areas and doing their jobs.
Although the head of the Western Cape Government’s Health Emergency Medical Services, Dr Shaheem De Vries, says the number of attacks on paramedics have decreased this year, the problem with EMS attacks is not necessarily about the amount of attacks but rather the threat of them.
“The threat hasn’t dissipated at all,” he said.
“The fact that there’s a risk of attack has changed the way the service operates. We have red zone protocols which means we have to be escorted to incidents in areas that are deemed high risk and the consequence of that is how long it takes to complete a call.”
De Vries says that what he has seen over the last few years is a gradual increase in the amount of time it takes to complete emergency calls. He explained that while it used to take approximately 60 minutes to complete an emergency call mission it now takes approximately 180 minutes – depending on the area and the need to wait for assistance or additional resources.
De Vries says they are now working closely with local resources in communities, such as neighbourhood watch groups, to expand their network of support and intelligence in the red zone areas [high risk areas].
“What we’ve realised is that we need to work closer with the communities in these areas,” he said.
With the high rate of crime and high risk of attack on paramedics in Cape Town, many in the field have previously called for paramedics to be armed and fitted with body armour. De Vries has now indicated, however, that the department is looking at introducing body cameras and that staff have already explored the possibility of body armour.