This is everything you should do in a medical emergency – including how to avoid paying R5,000 for an ambulance

Business Insider SA
Nicholas Sales during Emergency Medical Service (EMS) training in Goodwood, Cape Town (Instagram, @medicnick83)

People tend to panic and exaggerate when phoning an ambulance, says Nicholas Sales, Cape Town Metro Emergency Medical Service (EMS) paramedic. 

And if you are phoning the wrong ambulance service, you can expect to pay up to R5,000, Sales told Business Insider South Africa. 

He says people tend to get the basics wrong, which tends to lengthen an ambulance response time to get to a patient. 

“When you are calling for an emergency, remember that there are probably 100 people calling in at the same time and all of them think they are in dire circumstances,” Sales says. 

“So, rather be honest and tell the call taker exactly what is happening - we know you hate waiting.”

Sales says while no ambulance can refuse treatment for a patient, South Africans assume that ambulances are free. 

READ: This emergency safety app is big in Soweto – here’s how it works

Ambulance prices start at R1,000 and go up to R5,000 depending on the service rendered. 

“To mitigate this cost, always find out from your medical aid as to what ambulance services you should use,” he says. 

Sales gave Business Insider South Africa a list of seven things people should do in a medical emergency 

Give correct information 

Sales says on a typical day, a Metro EMS ambulance crew can attend to up to 14 calls. “Most of the calls are actually [lower priority calls],  even though many of them come through as [top priority],” he says. Sales says people should simply not lie. “It also happens way too often that people make up stories to get ambulances there quicker.” 

Wait outside 

Many houses don’t have numbers, names on buildings,  or are hidden behind trees which means ambulance crews struggle to find them, especially at night, Sales says. “So, waving us down when we come into the road is always best.” 

Get everything ready 

“If you, for example, know that the entrance to the building is blocked by furniture or by a vehicle then move furniture around or move cars,” Sales says. “ Remember we [are] likely going to bring in a stretcher.” 

Remove dogs and other animals from the area 

Sales says people tend to forget that paramedics are strangers coming into their house. “There is enough tension and panic in the air as is,” Sales says. “Animals pick up on this and they might think we are there to hurt you and attack us.” 

Get the essentials ready 

In a medical emergency the patient will probably end up in hospital, Sales says. He advises that people get medications, ID documents, hospital cards, extra clothes, employer insurance (where applicable) etc. ready in one bag to easily take along. “This includes money and a cellphone and charger.” 

Decide on an escort 

Sales says too much time is wasted while people argue who is going along to the hospital. “And remember that an escort cannot be a minor!” 

Phone the medical aid 

Sales says it is always better to, if possible, double check with the medical aid to ensure that you are using the correct ambulance provider. In a vehicle accident, however, remember that the cost can be claimed from the Road Accident Fund (RAF), he says. 

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