21.07.23 12:14 PM Comment(s)

In a life-or-death situation, all you hear is sirens. The sound of saving your loved ones’ life. Although in such a situation, you would be willing to do anything to save your loved ones’ life, should there be no ambulance available… your options are limited, and due to the ambulance crisis in South Africa, there may be no ambulance available to save your/your loved ones’ life.

Alongside the above, there are also differences in private and public ambulance services, and the implications of entering each of these emergency vehicles differ too.

Why do we wait so long for an ambulance in South Africa?

f you have ever requested an ambulance in South Africa, this question has run through your head several times. You could wait anywhere from 15 minutes (in the best possible, highly unlikely situation) to eight hours for an ambulance.

Due to a substantial lack of ambulances (on the road) nationwide, South African’s are experiencing an increased number of deaths, which are in some cases preventable. Alongside increased deaths, the conditions of casualties have the potential to get significantly worse in the waiting period. This shortage evidently leads to delays in emergency services; however, it also leads to ambulances not showing up at all! It’s been noted that there are less than half the number of public ambulances compared to what is required.

In 2021 there was an ambulance crisis in Gauteng, which happened after the Gauteng Department of Health brought emergency medical services under provincial control in 2020. Licensing issues, and accidents have led to ambulances in various areas being completely unusable.

Every province is said to have roughly half the number of ambulances required, with a significant number of ambulance emergency’s being logged.

Alongside the shortage of ambulances, there are other factors which slow down the response time of emergency medical services. These include:

  • Insufficient trained paramedics
  • Hospitals being far from the incident or hospitals not accepting patients due to resource shortages (diverting ambulances to other facilities further away)
  • Emergency call centre staff are inefficient and lack the required skills for the job
  • Insufficient medical supplies and ambulance equipment in emergency medical vehicles
  • Accessibility to rural areas being a challenge as a result of the substandard street conditions
  • Abuse of the system by members of the public that call unnecessarily, provide incorrect information, do not let emergency services know if other ambulances have arrived resulting in 2 or 3 ambulance services arriving at 1 incident.

Do you need medical aid for a private ambulance in South Africa?

In South Africa, you cannot be refused emergency, lifesaving medical services; this includes individuals that cannot afford such services. The National Patients’ Rights Charter protects and provides South Africans with the right to medical assistance. Provincial, state-run emergency services can stabilise and transport individuals to hospitals at no cost. It is important to note, however, as seen above, that all provinces within South Africa have too few public ambulances available.

The above situation is relevant for public emergency services, however, when dealing with private emergency services, the following is relevant:

  • Should you have medical aid, you will be charged accordingly/your medical aid will finance the relevant portion of the fees. There are various medical aid plans in South Africa, and each one is likely to pay out differently based on the level of coverage.
  • Should you not be a member of a medical aid scheme, an assessment is performed based on your income and you will be charged accordingly.
  • Traffic accidents are covered by the road accident fund and therefore private ambulance services are reimbursed via this structure.

In summary, should an ambulance be required by you/your loved ones, there is a way to make it happen no matter your financial situation. An ambulance bed is available to all!

Tips and Tricks for Emergency Situations


As a South African, you should download the Namola app! Namola is your best friend in an emergency situation. It is free to download (available on Apple and on Android devices) and can assist you greatly. After downloading the app, and inserting basic personal information, a large SOS button can be seen at the bottom of your screen, this button then has options including: Fire, Medical, Accident and more. Selecting the option best suited for your situation will put you through to a call centre where someone will answer and be ready to assist you. Namola strives to create safer communities, and to protect you in frightening situations. The app has many features, outside of those mentioned. Namola can assist you in contacting public emergency services, as well as community responders.


Having basic First Aid knowledge is extremely beneficial to assist in an emergency medical situation. Should an ambulance take hours to arrive on scene, being first aid trained could be the difference between life or death for the casualty.

  • REMEMBER: 10177 AND 112

10177 is the South African number fire department and ambulance emergency number. 112 is the number for all emergencies. These two numbers are important, and valuable to remember. Save them on your cell phone, write them down and slip them into your cell phone cover or in your handbag or car.

The above tips, tricks and knowledge will hopefully assist you, as a South African, when you find yourself in a situation requiring emergency medical services.