Is a bakkie appropriate for use as a private ambulance?

‘Bakkie’ is the common South African term for a light delivery vehicle with an enclosed cab and an open load area at the rear of the vehicle. A number of bakkies have been used by the Provincial Emergency Medical Services as ambulances in rural areas where the road network is limited or poorly maintained. In instances such as these it has sometimes been necessary to make use of the four-wheel drive capability of a bakkie-type ambulance to reach patients that are situated in very remote areas where a regular ambulance may not be able to travel.

Over the past 10 years the South African vehicle industry has seen a favourable development of panel-van type light delivery vehicles that has resulted in safer and more comfortable panel vans being made available to the emergency medical services industry for conversion to ambulances. These vehicles commonly include features such as ABS braking systems, airbags, traction control systems, air conditioning, and modern suspension systems. All of these features combine to create an environment that is both safer and more comfortable for transporting patients and for EMS practitioners to work in.

While the use of bakkies as ambulances may have been more commonly accepted in the 1980s and 1990s, these types of ambulances are much less commonly used in today’s emergency medical services environment. Unless an ambulance service is operating in an extremely rural area with a poorly established road network, private ambulance services should no longer be making use of bakkies as ambulances. As a private ambulance operator, you are expected to be offering only the very best in terms of both clinical provision and comfort to your patients.

A bakkie has a much harder suspension than a panel van and as a result it does not offer the same levels of comfort to patients. The suspension is also not appropriate for being driven at higher speeds – something often required in the emergency medical services environment. The ambulance conversion for a bakkie is also often top-heavy, putting the vehicles at a higher risk of rolling over in the event of a collision. The interior of a bakkie-type ambulance is generally cramped, poorly ventilated, and uncomfortable for patients and practitioners. The limited space available in the rear of a bakkie-type ambulance is not conducive to quality clinical care – especially in the Advanced Life Support environment.

Simply put, a bakkie-based ambulance is far less safe, and far less comfortable than the panel van alternative.

As a private ambulance industry we should all be striving towards improving our standards of clinical provision and comfort to patients, and a bakkie-based ambulance does not align with those goals. Unless an ambulance service is operating in an extremely rural area the use of a bakkie-type ambulance is not considered to be best practice, and is not encouraged by SAPAESA.

Let us all pursue excellence in the pre-hospital emergency medical environment and set new standards that all should aspire to adhere to.

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