THE Eastern Cape department of health has vowed to take harsh action against employees found abusing ambulances. In some cases the critical medical vehicles have reportedly been used to transport prostitutes.
The department said corrupt officials were also using the fuel cards of damaged vehicles to buy fuel, despite the fact that these vehicles were out of service. Spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said corruption cost the department money and at times the lives of patients.
“There are cases that we are investigating where we hear that ambulances are used to take prostitutes home and “out of commission” vehicles being refuelled every day,” he said. “This abuse needs to come to an end. This card scam is taking place all over the province and we are doing all we can to nab those who are involved in it.” The department was responding to paramedics who recently complained about a shortage of rescue vehicles.
Not to be confused with ambulances, rescue vehicles are mainly used to respond to emergencies where equipment such as the jaws of life, generators, spotlights and ropes are needed to extract victims from wrecks or mountainous areas. The paramedics complained that there was just one operational rescue vehicle to cover Mdantsane, King William’s Town, Bedford, Alice, Stutterheim, Cathcart, Keiskammahoek, Fort Beaufort, Adelaide and Peddie. They accused the department of ignoring their call for more vehicles, instead rolling out ambulances across the province.
Kupelo said the department was doing all it could but there were individuals who abused state vehicles for their own gains. Kupelo said investigations had found that:
A Matatiele ambulance was discovered in a village at night in Mthatha, having covered over 400km;
An ambulance was used by (paramedics) from Lusikisiki to pay tax in Mthatha last month;
A Port Elizabeth driver was dismissed in 2009 after he allegedly tried to rape a mother of a patient on their way to hospital;
In Mthatha, Mount Ayliff and Bizana petrol cards for out of commission vehicles were still being used; and
In Mthatha, Toyota Quantum vehicles are stripped of parts including mirrors, tyres and batteries.
“The ambulance will leave the depot with brand new tyres and when it comes back it has bald tyres... this is done by employees who are operating these ambulances, what must we do?” asked Kupelo. Department of Transport spokesman Ncedo Kumbaca yesterday lashed out at various government departments for being too slow in taking action against culprits.
“We supply the departments and they are the end users,” he said. “They are too slow to take action against those who have done wrong.” But Kupelo said disciplinary action was being taken against people found to be on the wrong side of the law.
“It must be clear though that this is done by certain individuals, not all the drivers. One other issue is the disrespect by motorists to ambulances in the Mthatha area, where motorists do not give way. This causes our vehicles to crash,” he said.