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Fears for Emergency Services as Training Terminated

Fears for Emergency Services as Training Terminated

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West Cape News via YellowBrix

May 21, 2010

WEST CAPE, South Africa – The DA claims private paramedic college owners and working paramedics are furious at the government’s decision to terminate emergency medical services (EMS) short courses, which are responsible for training 99 percent of emergency medical personnel.

The decision was to phase out short courses offered by private institution over the next four years, was taken by the Department of Health in conjunction with the Health Professions Council of South Africa’s (HPCSA).

Although the HPCSA announced the decision in 2004, the DA’s Shadow Minister of Health, Mike Waters, hit back this week following a meeting with industry insiders, saying “experts believe that this may prompt the complete collapse of the EMS training system in South Africa”.

The course, consisting of three levels (a five-week basic ambulance assistance course, a 14-week intermediate ambulance emergency assistance course, and an advanced nine-month critical care assistance course) has been in force for over twenty years and has been the basic requirement needed for those wanting to enter the emergency care medical profession.

The HPCSA intends to phase the EMS short course out by 2014, with the first and third level courses being rooted out by the end of this year.

Lloyd Christopher, chairman of the Professional Board for Emergency Care at HPCSA said that the scrapping of the short course was necessary due to the inadequate training it offered in such a short space of time.

“We can’t continue to run it like this and place unrealistic expectations on students,” said Christopher.

He said the short courses were being replaced with a two year Emergency Care Technician (ECT) course which provides more in depth training in pharmacology, physiology and psychologyA more intense four year degree in Emergency Medical Care will also be introduced in 2011.

“The Board has for a number of years been concerned that practitioners with little more than five weeks ambulance training make up more than 80% of the operational personnel…Moreover, there is little access to progress to higher level short courses offered by the private EMS training industry who charge exorbitant fees,” said Christopher.

Waters said the move would result in tertiary institutions being the main source of training, yet they accounted for only about one percent of the current trained personnel.

This meant there would almost certainly be a lack of capacity to retrain those who progressed through the scrapped short course system and could “significantly reduce the country’s ability to produce enough qualified EMS professionals,” said Waters.

But Craig Lambert, head of department of Emergency Medical Care at the University of Johannesburg, said he supported the HPCSA’s intervention, adding that his department was currently in the process of applying to run the new course.

“All the HPCSA is trying to do is to align the EMS with the other medical professions. In none of the other professions, do you get training for a few months and then register. The public deserves better than just 3-4 weeks of training,” he said.

Damian Taylor, who owns private paramedic college Human Emergency Life Programme in Johannesburg, said although the HPCSA’s intentions were good, it was not doing it effectively.

Taylor said a number of private colleges were churning out “less than sub-quality graduates just to make money” but instead of eliminating the short course, government should police private colleges and standardise the exams.

The intervention could result in private colleges shutting down as many could not afford to run the new course, which “costs millions”.

And a number of private emergency medical service company owners and employees are worried the intervention could force them out of their profession as companies would not provide paid leave for employees to do the two year course.

“For 15 years, I have been on the basic level,” said Neels Loots, owner of Paramedic SA in the Northern Cape. “I have a family (to support), no one would give me two years paid leave to do the course. If I want to do the course I would have to resign…or not progress.”

Loots believes that in five years, the basic ambulance course would have “no weight”, making people like himself unemployable in the profession.

However, Christopher said that those who chose not to do the course could “still continue to practise”.

A paramedic who used to work for the state, said government’s move would have a “catastrophic impact” on the industry as many highly experienced paramedic workers did not have the necessary qualifications to do the new course which requires maths and physical science, despite Christopher indicating a bridging course would be offered for the new course.

The paramedic, who now works in the private sector and asked not to be named, said: “I am concerned about my future. I could be forced into another career.”