New rules, same game

Rich diversity and stiff competition can be hugely beneficial to any industry. The challenge presented along with the benefits however, is that ensuring a minimum standard of service becomes quite difficult when your services are decentralised. Some industries, such as those using creative arts, can easily survive a lack of standardisation. But in life or death lines such as the security or medical services, the results can be fatal for the clients and even ultimately the industries themselves.

The National Department of Health in South Africa has stepped in to address that particular challenge within the emergency medical services, by introducing the National EMS regulations, a set of stringent regulations to ensure that the emergency medical services remain under control and have adequate guidance, with a view to providing every single person who finds themselves being handled by any South African EMS is given a standardised minimum level of safe and professional treatment.

In doing so, careful attention has been given in the regulations to such areas as quality of service, sufficient and properly trained staff, and the presence and maintenance of all the required equipment to safely operate ambulance vehicles. The coverage of the regulations will apply to all of the following services:

  1. A medical response service (response car service)
  2. An ambulance service (transporting patients in ambulances)
  3. An event medical service (providing medical support services at events)
  4. An air ambulance service (operating a fixed wing or rotor wing ambulance)
  5. A medical rescue service (operating a medical rescue vehicle)
  6. A training college medical response service (a college operating a response car)
  7. A community medical / volunteer medical service (a volunteer emergency medical service)

Once the regulations have been finalised, it will be illegal to operate any of the above vehicles or services without them being inspected, approved, and accredited by the Department of Health. Any service operating without such accreditation will be considered as committing a criminal offence and be subject to a fine of up to R500 000 and/or up to five years of imprisonment.

Currently, some of the supporting documents pertaining to the National EMS Regulations haven’t been promulgated. As a result, the National EMS Regulations haven’t yet been implemented at provincial level. The outstanding documents are however expected to be promulgated within about four months’ time. Once all of the documents have been finalised, existing services that are operating within the emergency medical services market will have 12 month grace period within which to become compliant with the new regulations.

The new regulations should not be much cause for concern to emergency medical services already operating professionally. There may only be some minor adjustments to be made for such services to continue operating. Ambulance services that are operating and are either unaccredited, or are accredited but are no longer compliant with the accreditation criteria will need to focus on substantially improving their operations and ensuring that all of their vehicles, staff and equipment are compliant with the new National EMS Regulations in order to avoid the prosecution mentioned above, and/or closure.

Persons who are operating rescue vehicles, ambulances, or response vehicles but are not accredited as emergency medical services in terms of the National EMS Regulations will no longer be able to do so. It will be illegal to fit red lights or sirens to a vehicle if it is not accredited by the relevant provincial Department of Health, who will be responsible for implementing the Regulations as well as inspecting and accrediting services according to the Regulations.  This will most likely happen through the Office of Health Standards Compliance.