There have been more than 56 attacks on Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff members in the Western Cape in 2018, and according to Deputy Minister of Health, Mathume Phaahla, there has been a marked reduction in emergency services due to this.

“We are living in a criminal-infested society and that’s why this will explore the relationship between community policing forums and EMS to ensure there are systems of co-operation when a call for help arrives,” Phaahla said at the CPUT EMS Safety Symposium this week.

As reported by IOL, the Deputy Minister was joined by other safety stakeholders, experts and community members, to discuss the scale of this problem. The symposium was aimed at rectifying the issue as soon as possible as the festive season has begun, the time of year when the need for EMS spikes.

Phaahla also said that the attacks on EMS staff was an indicator of the lack of respect for human life in South Africa, and brought up the concept of ‘red zones’ to deal with the spate of ambulance attacks.

A ‘red zone’, or access-controlled zone, is an area where an ambulance is banned from entering without police assistance. This is usually effective for a 24-hour period.

Last November, Mfuleni was declared a temporary red zone after an armed crew of robbers attacked an EMS ambulance that was idling outside a day clinic in the area. “Fortunately the attackers fled when members of the public approached the ambulance. The crew were left uninjured and took refuge inside the medical facility until police were able to escort them out of the area,” Western Cape Emergency Medical and Forensic Pathology Services spokesperson, Robert Daniels, told News24 at the time.

This attempted robbery took place a week after another EMS ambulance was attacked by people throwing rocks at it on the N2, which resulted in the death of Faigon Wildschut just days before his eighth birthday.

Other interventions the department may implement includes training members of neighbourhood watches and Community Policing Forum (CPF) members to be first responders and provide critical medical care until ambulance staff are able to reach the scene.

According to Acting Deputy Dean of the CPUT Faculty of Health and Wellness Sciences, Lloyd Christopher, this was the first co-ordinated effort to tackle the problem of EMS attacks.

“It is important that we get a diverse view of why these ambulance attacks are happening. A common solution must be possible,” he said.

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