Over the past week, People's Post journalists investigating four separate and seemingly preventable deaths in their areas uncovered a frightening fact - the City of Cape Town's Metro Ambulance Service is so understaffed and under-resourced that people needing critical medical attention cannot rely on them for help.
The four incidents included the death of strangulation victim Mary Kamanga, who was reportedly still breathing when she was found by an au pair in Noordhoek at 13:00 on 22 February.
The Metro ambulance that was called out to the "priority one" incident did not show up and Kamanga was declared dead on arrival by the private ambulance service which took over the call.
...declared dead on arrival by the private ambulance service which took over the call.
Two other incidents, which occurred in Grassy Park and Hanover Park, involved the death of a middle-aged woman, as well as a mother and child. (See the full report on all four incidents on page two.)
Although Metro Ambulance Service spokesperson Mark Obery could not fully investigate all three cases by the time of going to press, he did admit that in Kamanga's case, Metro had received the call at the reported time but could not dispatch an ambulance to the scene in time.
"The vehicle was cancelled en route to the scene [after being dispatched 40 minutes after the initial call].
"The vehicle was cancelled en route to the scene [after being dispatched 40 minutes after the initial call]. Other ambulance services already had vehicles at the scene and the Metro ambulance operator was informed that the patient had died," Obery said.
By way of explanation, Obery stated in an e-mail that 70 calls were received on that day between 13:00 and 14:30.
"With the available resources and increasing incident rate, delays of this nature would be common, yet unacceptable, occurrences," Obery stated.
In a subsequent telephone conversation, he reiterated that a lack of resources was to blame for the incidents.
...delays of this nature would be common, yet unacceptable, occurrences...
"At best, and by this I mean during our peak operating hours where no staff are on leave or off sick, we should have 45 ambulances out on the road. However, this is never the case," Obery admitted.
Obery could not explain why critical calls that Metro could not attend to, were not forwarded to other emergency service providers such as the Fire Department, Disaster Management or private ambulance services as a rule.
Warren Dawson, a volunteer with Disaster Management in Fish Hoek, said that, although their service can provide intermediate and basic life support to critical patients, they are not always informed of such incidents by the Metro call centre.
...wait up to two hours for an ambulance.
"We do sometimes get a call from Metro but it largely depends on the person in the control room.
"At weekends we often attend to accidents and other emergencies and there have been instances where we had to wait up to two hours for an ambulance.
"In some areas Metro is the only choice for people, as most do not have the money to pay for a private service," he said.
Dr Cleeve Robertson, chief of Western Cape Metro Services, responded to People's Post's queries late on Monday afternoon.
Robertson initially explained that a lack of a standardised emergency call-centre, like the 911 system America employs, lies at the root of the Metro Ambulance Service's problems country-wide.
While he admitted that he was not familiar with all three of the cases in question, he tried to lay responsibility for these specific response delays at the door of the 107 emergency dispatch centre (which operates separately from Metro's direct 10177 radio-control centre).
When confronted with information that a 107 spokesperson had refuted this claim in an earlier interview, Robertson admitted that, "I have about half the ambulances and staff I need".
"I have about half the ambulances and staff I need"
"The money that should be coming to us is being funnelled to other services like Disaster Management," he said.
"Ours should be a priority over their service as we are able to more fully treat any patient. They don't even have ambulances," he said.
Dr Robertson also stated that he does not know whether the situation will change any time soon.
"We are waiting to hear what the budget has in store for us. It will only be revealed on Thursday. There are promises of money, but nothing is concrete," Robertson stated.