Prof. Nomafrench Mbombo observes mountain rescue exercise & reports back on festive season impact in the Western Cape

More than 120 000 patients seen in provincial emergency centres during the Festive Season.

24 January 2024: Today, Western Cape Minister of Health and Wellness, Prof Nomafrench Mbombo, joined Air Mercy Service (AMS), Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and other stakeholders during a mountain rescue exercise based at Tafelberg Road, Table Mountain.

This training exercise was an opportunity for our health professionals to remain current in their skills and to ensure the quality of our service delivery. During the event, all of the present stakeholders were able to provide feedback on the Festive Season.

On an annual basis, the Department of Health and Wellness anticipates an increase in trauma and emergency incidents linked to the Festive Season (15 December – 15 January). This means resources must be strategically allocated to ensure that our emergency centers within our facilities and our Emergency Medical Services (EMS) are adequately prepared to handle the heightened demand preceding the province’s tourism season.

Air Mercy Service (AMS)

As a sole aero-medical contractor for EMS, AMS plays a crucial role in our emergency services by conducting search and rescue operations as well as airlifting critical patients across the province. It is also the only sole aero-medical operator in Southern Africa that provides a comprehensive suite of services encompassing air-ambulance, rural health outreach, and rescue services.

In the Western Cape, AMS’s fleet consists of one fixed-wing aircraft based in Cape Town and two helicopters (one based in Cape Town & one based in Oudtshoorn). They regularly engage in training exercises with EMS and other stakeholders such as Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) whose volunteers greatly assist in our wilderness emergencies.

The CEO of AMS, Mr. Farhaad Haffejee, highlighted the impact of the festive season on their operations, “The Red Cross Air Mercy Service (AMS) serves as the proud aero-medical service provider and partner to the Department of Health and Wellness. AMS is part of an integrated response system of the Department and have conducted a total of 87 missions for the festive season. There were 52 emergencies where the two helicopters were used for rescues, accident scenes, and critical interhospital transfers.

With regards to the rescue missions AMS performed:

• 11 helicopter rescues.

• 51 hoists and 1 short-haul extraction.

• 9 of these rescues were in mountain or wilderness terrain and 2 in the sea.

Most of those who needed help were hikers. The fixed-wing air ambulance conducted 35 missions, transporting 71 patients from rural areas. We would like to give special thanks to the Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness Emergency Medical Services, Wilderness Search and Rescue, and Life-Saving South Africa for contributing crews to the helicopter rescue teams. 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.”

Emergency Medical Services (EMS)

In preparation for the Festive Season, EMS ensured 24/7 availability of personnel, ambulances, and rescue services. There was also strategic placement of resources along major highways prone to incidents and collaboration with our Emergency Communications Centres with the aim of enhancing road safety during peak traffic days from the 15th of December. Additionally, coordination with the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) and Lifeguards SA was established for beach safety on specific days, including the 16th, 26th of December, as well as New Year’s Day. Overall, there was an 8.24% increase in EMS callouts when comparing the previous festive season to the most recent one. In total, 29% of all calls responded in the 2023/24 season were P1 cases (those in urgent need of medical attention).

Speaking at the event, the Director: Emergency Medical Services, Craig Wylie added, “The 2023/24 Festive Season saw EMS experience an increase in callouts in comparison to the previous period. Nonetheless, our directorate remains proud of the partnerships we have formed to further emergency medicine across the province. These partnerships were crucial to our management of the festive season, which entails intricate planning and allocation of resources on an annual basis. The success of our initiatives is a result of the dedication of our emergency care health professionals and volunteers, who sacrifice much of their comfort and time for the benefit of the general public’s well-being and health. I am grateful to lead these individuals on a daily basis.”

Provincial Emergency Centres

As mentioned during the launch of our festive readiness plan last year, our facilities decrease elective procedures during the festive season to allow for the reallocation of sufficient resources to our emergency centres for the anticipated increase in medical (and trauma) incidents. Our facilities also took the necessary steps to ensure a secured supply and inventories of projected consumables needs for use during this period.

Using our HECTIS platform, between 15 December and 15 January in 62 of our ECs in the province we were able to see the following:

• A total of 120 158 patients were presented in our ECs, of which 25.5 % of these cases were as a result of trauma (30 591). The top five police precincts where trauma cases occurred were Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain, Kraaifontein, Delft and Gugulethu.

• The peak of the festive season was seen over the New Year’s weekend, specifically 28 December – 1 January.

• Of the total trauma cases, 43% were due to assault (13 178 cases) where 521 of these involved firearms.

7.4% or 2285 trauma cases were due to road traffic incidents (RTIs), in which 45% were pedestrian vehicle accidents (PVAs).

Self-harm cases were registered at 722 (2.3% of trauma).

• In total, there were 204 sexual offences cases attended to by medical professionals. Speaking to the impact of the festive season on our ECs, Provincial Coordinator: Specialist Emergency Services, Prof Heike Geduld, added, “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.”

Western Cape Minister of Health and Wellness, Prof Nomafrench Mbombo closed the event 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.”

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