Western Cape has 8.24% surge in EMS call-outs during festive season

Emergency officials conduct a simulated mountain rescue on a dummy during an exercise at Tafelberg Road, Table Mountain, with Western Cape Health MEC Prof Nomafrench Mbombo.

Emergency officials conduct a simulated mountain rescue on a dummy during an exercise at Tafelberg Road, Table Mountain, with Western Cape Health MEC Prof Nomafrench Mbombo.

Published Jan 24, 2024


The Western Cape saw an 8.24% increase in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) call-outs over the 2023 festive season, compared to previous years, with more than 120 000 patients seen in provincial emergency centres (ECs).

A total of 120 158 patients were presented at our ECs, of which 25.5 % of these cases were a result of trauma (30 591). The peak of the festive season was seen over the New Year’s weekend, specifically December 28 – January 1.

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

The Western Cape health department said 7.4%, or 2 285, trauma cases were due to road traffic incidents (RTIs), of which 45% were pedestrian vehicle accidents (PVAs).

There were also 722 (2.3% of trauma) self-harm cases registered and a total of 204 sexual offence cases seen by medical professionals.

During the 2023/24 season, 29% of all emergency calls necessitated urgent medical attention (P1 cases). The top-20 recorded incidents in the province, comparing the festive seasons of 2022/23 and 2023/24 showed non-cardiac pain incidents increased slightly from 11 224 to 11 362, while respiratory complaints saw a slight decrease from 5 958 to 5 787.

Assaults involving weapons (other) remained relatively stable at 5 038 compared to 5 018. Obstetric complaints decreased from 4 256 to 4 078, and neurological complaints showed a decline from 3 994 to 3 715. These statistics provide insight into the diverse medical issues addressed during emergency calls, revealing changes and patterns over the two festive seasons.

The comparison of EMS call-outs between the previous festive season and the most recent showed the City of Cape Town had a notable rise from 27 402 to 31 374 calls. The Garden Route district experienced a marginal increase from 10 430 to 10 659, while the Cape Winelands district showed a more substantial growth from 10 031 to 10 865 call-outs. The West Coast district recorded a slight decrease from 7 460 to 7 232, while the Overberg District witnessed an increase from 4 690 to 5 015. The Central Karoo district reported a minimal decline from 2 017 to 1 998.

EMS director Craig Wylie said: “The 2023/24 Festive Season saw EMS experience an increase in call-outs 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.”

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 health-care 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.”

In the Western Cape, Air Mercy Service (AMS) is a sole aero-medical contractor for EMS, conducting search and rescue operations as well as airlifting critical patients across the province. The fleet consists of one fixed-wing aircraft based in Cape Town and two helicopters (one based in Cape Town and one based in Oudtshoorn).

AMS CEO Farhaad Haffejee highlighted the impact of the festive season on their operations: “The Red Cross Air Mercy Service 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 has 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.”

Rescue missions AMS performed:

  • eleven helicopter rescues,
  • fifty-one hoists and one short-haul extraction, and
  • nine rescues in mountain or wilderness terrain and two in the sea.

They said most of those who needed help were hikers. The fixed-wing air ambulance conducted 35 missions, transporting 71 patients from rural areas.

Cape Times