Wheels fall off EC scooter project – ‘Do not meet basic criteria to be used as ambulances’: Zweli Mkhize

The Eastern Cape health department was expecting to deploy 100 modified motorbikes to transport patients in deep rural areas but now minister Zweli Mkhize claims the purpose ‘is mainly for widening access to primary health care and delivering of chronic medicine’.
Image: EC MEC Health via Facebook

The controversial scooters bought by the Eastern Cape health department to transport patients do not meet the criteria for transporting patients as ambulances.

This is according to health minister Zweli Mkhize, responding to a question from DA MP Siviwe Gwarube.

“No, the scooter project that was launched by the Eastern Cape department of health (ECDOH) does not meet the basic criteria for patient transport as an ambulance.

“The purpose of this project by ECDOH is mainly for widening access to primary health care and delivering of chronic medicine for the most remote areas of the Eastern Cape province,” he said.

Mkhize said the national health department was not consulted on the specifications before the procurement of the scooters.

“However, the province has been advised that none of these scooters will be used as ambulances because they do not meet the specific requirements as provided for in the EMS regulations, such as minimum patient compartment space and equipment requirements,” he said.

Mkhize was responding to a written parliamentary question from Gwarube, who wanted to know details about the scooter project and whether it met the basic criteria of patient transport.

The Eastern Cape health department had previously said it received complaints from rural communities that ambulances do not reach people who are sick, especially the elderly, because of lack of road infrastructure.

“The members of the community end up having to put an individual in a wheelbarrow or walking a long distance while carrying a patient until they reach a road where the ambulance can go.

“These are motorbikes that are designed for off-road capabilities and the intention is for these units to be able to transport patients to the nearest clinic.

“In addition, the motorbikes can be ridden by two community health workers to carry out tasks such as Covid-19 screening in deep rural areas and general health screening and testing for other communicable diseases such as TB and HIV as well as non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension. They can also be used to deliver medicines.

“The dignity and health of our people remains a top priority and we will continue to explore all avenues to ensure that even the poorest members of the community enjoy the right to quality health care,” the ministry said at the time.

This week, the bid adjudication committee in the Eastern Cape committed to investigating the awarding of the tender to the supplier of the scooters.

The DA has also requested the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to look into the rights of patients who would have to be subjected to “this inhumane transport”.

Gwarube said her party would submit Mkhize’s response to the commission as supplementary evidence in the investigation they have committed to launching.

“If the national department of health now backtracks from the initial purported function of the scooters which minister Mkhize personally endorsed, it begs the question why R10m is being spent on a chronic medication distribution system.

“What is the point of the first aid equipment, drip stands and the stretcher attached to the scooter?” she asked.

Gwarube said the “scooter scandal” was yet another indication of the ineptitude of the Eastern Cape department of health’s  leadership.

“The MEC has recently argued that the department is bankrupt, yet R10m can be wasted on scooters which will gather dust in some warehouse. All the while, the province is failing to mount a decent response to the Covid-19 crisis.

“There is a critical shortage of staff, insufficient bed capacity ambulances in some areas, underscored by the rising number of infections and deaths.”

Gwarube reiterated her previous call for the provincial department of health to be placed under administration in accordance with section 100 of the constitution.

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