Over 120 000 patients seen in provincial emergency centres during the festive season

Minister Prof Nomafrench Mbombo accompanied by the AMS crew and management, as well as EMS officials from the department and local representation from the City of Cape Town. Picture: Supplied

Minister Prof Nomafrench Mbombo accompanied by the AMS crew and management, as well as EMS officials from the department and local representation from the City of Cape Town. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 26, 2024


Western Cape Minister of Health and Wellness, Prof Nomafrench Mbombo, recently took part in a mountain rescue training exercise with Air Mercy Service (AMS), Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and other groups at Tafelberg Road, Table Mountain.

The training was a chance for medical workers to keep their skills sharpened and make sure they can give the best care possible. It also gave everyone involved a chance to talk about how things went during the busy holiday season.

Every year, the Department of Health and Wellness gets ready for accidents and emergencies during the festive season (from December 15 to January 15).

This means we need to plan ahead to make sure hospitals and EMS are ready to handle the extra demand during the busy tourist season.

Air Mercy Service (AMS) is really important for the emergency services. They use helicopters and planes to rescue people in tough spots and move sick patients across the province.

They're the only aero-medical operator in Southern Africa that provides a full range of services, including air ambulances and rescue missions.

Emergency Medical Care officials conducting simulating a mountain rescue on a dummy. Picture: Supplied

The CEO of AMS, Farhaad Haffejee, said that during the festive season they did 87 missions, with 52 emergencies where helicopters were used for rescues and transporting patients between hospitals.

They did 11 helicopter rescues, 51 hoists, and 1 short-haul extraction, with many of the rescues being in mountains or wilderness areas.

EMS also made sure to have enough staff and ambulances available all the time during the festive season, especially along busy highways.

They worked with the National Sea Rescue Institute and Lifeguards SA to keep beaches safe on specific days during the holiday season.

This cooperation between different groups is making a big difference in helping keep everyone safe during a busy time. Minister Mbombo commended the collaboration and said: "We are proud to deliver a world-class service to all the citizens of the Western Cape and to all who visit this beautiful province."

Overall, there was an 8.24% increase in EMS callouts when comparing the previous festive season to the most recent one, which can be seen in the below table:

In total, 29% of all calls responded in the 2023/24 season were P1 cases (those in urgent need of medical attention). Of all the calls made, the following were recorded as the Top 20 incidents in the province. Picture: Screenshot

Craig Wylie, the head of Emergency Medical Services (EMS), shared at a recent event that his team responded to more calls this holiday season than the year before.

Nevertheless, he expressed pride in the strong collaborations formed to enhance emergency medical services and said he values leading such dedicated individuals daily.

"These partnerships were key to our management of the festive season, a time that demands detailed planning and careful allocation of resources.

“Our success is due to the commitment of our health professionals and volunteers, who give up much for the community's health."

On the topic of provincial emergency centres, Wylie explained: "To ensure we were prepared for the predicted rise in emergencies, we reduced non-urgent surgeries during the holidays," a move announced in the festive readiness plan.

The centres were stocked with necessary supplies in anticipation of increased demand.

Data from the HECTIS system, covering December 15 to January 15, revealed that out of 120 158 patients treated at 62 emergency centres, 30 591 were trauma cases, which is 25.5% of the total visits.

The majority of traumas occurred in Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain, Kraaifontein, Delft, and Gugulethu.

The highest activity in these centres was during the New Year's period, from December 28 to January 1. Assaults represented 43% (13 178) of the trauma cases reported.

In total, there were 204 sexual offences seen by medical professionals.

Speaking to the impact of the festive season on the emergency centres (EC), Provincial Coordinator: Specialist Emergency Services, Prof Heike Geduld, said: “While the prevalence of trauma in our ECs remained comparable to the previous season, treating more than 120 000 patients within a month is still a mammoth task to undertake and speaks to the heightened demand on the healthcare system.

“During this period, we saw how interpersonal violence continued to be a persistent factor behind our trauma cases. This speaks to the need for us as a society to address the factors that lead to these incidents to prevent our health system’s resources from being further stretched.”

Cape Minister Mbombo concluded by saying: “Our mountain rescue exercise proved that collective efforts through partnerships can result in effective service delivery for our residents.

“While many of us were enjoying the end of a busy year, our healthcare professionals remained hard at work to ensure that our health system was able to manage the demand placed on it.

“These professionals work hard and contribute greatly to making our services more accessible to our communities. I look forward to the future work that arises from this partnership.”