EMS system in South Africa

Here it finally is: My post on EMS in South Africa.

It is partly taken from http://en.wikipedia.org

In South Africa there are  3 different levels of short course training for paramedics:

  • BAA (Basic Ambulance Assistant) – This is a Basic Life Support (BLS) certification, and is approximately the equivalent of the U.S. EMT-B. This is the minimum qualification to be a crew member of an ambulance in South Africa. Training includes a 160 hour course consisting of lectures and practical simulations. The lectures cover basic anatomy and physiology, basic life support (including both CPR and first aid), emergency care, the use of ambulance equipment, including Automated External Defibrillator’s (AED) and Oxygen, and various medico-legal issues.
  • AEA or Ambulance Emergency Assistant – This is an Intermediate Life Support (ILS) certification, and is the equivalent of the U.S. EMT-I, but with some added skills. To apply for AEA/ILS training, candidates must have at least 1,000 hours of practical experience as a BAA/BLS and they must pass an entrance exam to be eligible for the course. As an alternative route to certification, those completing the more advanced tertiary qualifications may challenge the examination and be certified as an AEA after successfully completing their first or second year of training. Training at this level consists of a 470 hour course, consisting of 240 hours of lectures and practical simulations, and 230 hours of experiential learning. AEA’s are qualified to practice various invasive techniques such as IV therapy, needle Cricothyroidotomy, needle ThoracocentesisECG interpretation, manual external defibrillation, and are allowed to administer various drugs.
  • CCA or Critical Care Assistant – This is an Advanced Life Support (ALS) certification. It may be compared to the U.S.AEMT-CC. To apply for ALS/CCA training, candidates must have at least 1,000 hours of practical experience as a ILS?AEA and they must pass an entrance exam to be eligible for the course. Candidates must complete a 1,200 hour course to qualify as a CCA/ALS. They are qualified to practice a large array of invasive techniques, can perform cardio-version and are allowed to administer narcotics, sedatives and various other drugs.

Then there are also 2 different University / Technikon qualifications:

  • ECT or Emergency Care Technician -This mid-level course is of two years duration, and exits on a level just above what many know as Intermediate Life Support (ILS), but below Advanced Life Support (ALS). This course is covered at 5 different training colleges in South Africa. Students who pass this course are eligible to apply to the HPCSA to be registered in the category of Emergency Care Technician (ECT).
  • BTech/BEMC or The Bachelor Degree Technology or Bachelor Degree in Emergency Medical Care, is a four-year professional degree and students who achieve this degree are eligible to be registered with the HPCSA in the register for Emergency Care Practitioner (ECP) which has an additional scope of practice. The most notable addition in stand-alone capabilities include Thrombolysis and Rapid sequence induction (RSI). ECP’s are also trained in the rescue disciplines offered by their University, normally up to the level of Advanced Rescue Practitioner. (Example: High Angle, Motor Vehicle, Fire Search and Rescue, Aviation, Confined Space, Structural Collapse, Industrial and Agricultural, Trench, Aquatic Rescue, etc.) The advantage of the BEMC qualification, is that they can offer their patients a higher level of care as their protocol is higher than that of a CCA.

Further opportunities for educational advancement exist for the ECP, as they are able to articulate into various Masters (M.EMC)(Mphil.EM)(MSc.EM) and Doctorate (DEMC)(PhD) programmes.

All EMS personnel in South Africa are required to meet the standards of the governing body, the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). All health practitioners in The Republic of South Africa are regulated by the HPCSA in terms of legislation set out in the Health Professions ACT.

South African Paramedics – in action!

The national objective is to have one staffed emergency ambulance for every 10,000 population, however, in some parts of the country this ratio is approximately 1 ambulance for every 30,000.

 There are currently no official “response time” standards in the South African system. However, response times of fifteen-to-twenty minutes for P1 (Red/Critical) calls in urban areas are considered acceptable, and in rural areas, response times of up to forty minutes to an hour, for similar calls are not uncommon.

Emergency Medical Services in South Africa fall under two categories, private sector and government sector. The government ambulance services are generally referred to as ‘Metro’ – or an acronym name depending on the area (ie. JEMS – for Johannesburg Emergency Management Services, EMRS for Eastern Cape Emergency Medical Services, etc). In addition to paid paramedics, the government sector has many unpaid volunteers.  The co-location of ambulances with fire apparatus is common in South Africa, although they are two independent services. The national emergency number for the Emergency Services (EMS and Fire) is 10 177.

Government (JEMS) Ambulance!
A Government (JEMS) RRV (Rapid Response Vehicle).
Eastern Cape Government Ambulance.

These government operated services are ‘helped’ by two main private-for-profit ambulance companies, namely:

  • Netcare 911 – Who was the first nationwide private EMS company, and are now one of the largest EMS companies in SA. They operate from +-60 base’s around the country, with an emergency vehicle fleet of:   a number of Medical Helicopters (HEMS) staffing doctors – trained in Emergency medicine, and an ALS/CCA paramedic; 
A Netcare 911 Helicopter.

+-100 ambulances crewed as either: A Dedicated Intensive Care Units (equipped with specialized equipment) capable of facilitating Inter-hospital Transfers – ranging from adults through to neonatal ICU patients staffed by any health care professional required, a Basic unit staffing 2 BAA’s/BLS’s, a Intermediate unit staffing a AEA/ILS and a BAA/BLS, or advanced staffing a ALS/CCA and ILS/AEA or just 2 ILS/AEA’s;

Netcare 911 Ambulance

+- 60 RRV’s (Rapid Response Vehicles – vehicles used to get to a “call” as fast as possible) staffed by a ILS/AEA or ALS/CCA paramedic and +-5 Doctor RRV’s which are staffed by doctors specializing in Emergency medicine and only respond to the most critical of calls.

Netcare 911 RRV


  • ER24, who operate out of (x) bases that are strategically placed in all major metropolitan areas and towns around the country as well as contracts with well-established ambulance service providers in the outlying areas. The National ER24 Emergency Call Centre based in Johannesburg handles in excess of 40 000 emergency calls per day.
ER24 Paramedics doing medical stand-by for an event.

In August 2000 a second major private emergency medical care company was registered in South Africa, ER24. ER24 is 100 percent privately owned by Medi-Clinic (A group of private hospitals in South Africa). Soon to become one of the largest privately owned Emergency Medical Care providers, ER24’s name was changed to ER24 EMS (Pty) Ltd. and now known in the industry as ER24.

The ER24 fleet consists of a 225 ground vehicles:

  • Ambulances which are staffed similarly to the Netcare Ambulances, but don’t have Dedicated Intensive Care Units.
  •  To cater for a much lacking need in South Africa, ER24 and Discovery  Health partnered in June 2009 to launch the Medicopter. The first Medicopter was launched in June 2009 in Johannesburg. A few months later the Medicopter was launched in Cape Town. Today, ER24 operates three Medicopters across South Africa with the third in KwaZulu Natal.

The ER24 Discovery Medicopter receiving a patient!

ER24 Medicopter Interior...

  • RRV’s staffed the same as Netcare’s RRV’s, but they also have Medicopter Ground Support Units (MGSU) which are fully medically equipped BMW X5’s. After the partnership between ER24 and (a medical aid company), and the subsequent launch of the ER24  Medicopters, three ground units were set in operation in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The unit comprises of three crew members who are qualified as Intermediate Life Support practitioners. The MGSU acts as a normal RRV, but is also called out to calls that require the Medicopter. The crew staffing the MGSU have been trained in the ways of HEMS, and have the knowledge to allow for the Medicopter to land, take-off, and be 100% safe throughout this process.
A ER24 MGSU – isn’t she beautiful?
  • Rescue Vehicles which carry paramedics trained in the various rescue disciplines, and carry specialized rescue equipment.

ER24 Rescue Vehicle

  • Fire & Rescue vehicles, of which there is only 1 at this time, and is based at a mine.
ER24 Fire & Rescue Vehicle
  • And Trauma Support vehicles, staffing trauma counselors, which are called in to traumatic scenes to help grieving relatives, traumatized victims, etc.

both of which operate nationally, and by a variety of smaller private services, such as Emer-g-med.

Emer-G-Med Ambulance

Or Hatzolah, which provide EMS exclusively to the Jewish communities.

Hatzolah Ambulance!

The  government sector and the private companies are further supplemented by voluntary ambulance services, including the South African Red Cross, and St. John Ambulance.

All private, and volunteer organisations are required to meet the same standards as the government services with respect to staff qualifications. These private and volunteer services are self-dispatching, and do not participate in the national emergency number scheme.

Public air ambulancee service is provided by the Red Cross Air Mercy Service from bases throughout the country. They also operate fixed wing aircrafts.

Red Cross Air Mercy Services (AMS) Helicopter

Emergency air ambulance service is also provided by Specialized Trauma Air Rescue (STAR), a not-for-profit group, operating nationally, and formerly known as ‘Flight for Life’. Private air ambulance charters are also available from a number of aircraft charter companies throughout the country.

And there is Helivac who run also operate a HEMS service.

Helivac Helicopter.

And there you have it! The EMS system in South Africa!

P.S. I don’t work in the industry (YET!), so some things may be wrong, if they are feel free to leave a comment and correct me!

With many thanks to Marcel From http://marcelnlsn.wordpress.com/ and Vanessa Jackson from ER24!🙂

25 Responses to “EMS system in South Africa”

  1. marc Says:

    Hey max it was a good post but I pick up a few things. The cca requirements is now 2000 hours. The ECT are also trained in a lower level of rescue (high angle, fire search and rescue and light motor vehicle rescue) and the last thing is the response cars are normally called PRV(primary response vehicles) but differs depending where u from. Good job on the post

  2. Marcel Says:

    Well done on the post very well put I will get you some more info on more of our vehicles and what we do. I am very proud

  3. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I don’t know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already😉 Cheers!

  4. natalie Says:

    Hmm I have started my BAA course and what a life shock it is I was never informed about the intense physical traning and parade done before attending long hour lectures my point is please inform people about the physical demand required as for the fire fighting I was not going to be shocked but prepared because they are straight forward to the point that we will be testerd physically(running ect) so I’m prepared mentally I’m surviving caurse I’m preparing myself mentally now !!! Soon to be Paramedic

    • I never did any physical training during my BAA. But From what i understand when you do it with COJEMS or another government/provincial fire service you do physical as well – purely due to the fire fighting component.

  5. Dina Dadswell Says:

    Hi there

    This is very interesting I would like to find out how do I leave a privately owned ems company information on this page?

    Have a lovely day

    Kind regards

  6. Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful article.
    Many thanks for providing these details.

  7. Fanie Says:

    Great posts…. Can anyone please give me more info about where I can do my CCA at an accredited college or school except netcare
    I’m desperate

  8. shimone Says:

    where do i study this , im in cape town

  9. Marchant Says:

    Ok well ive found my calling now i need to get there… where and how can i start…

    • With EMS moving into the direction of a professional career in SA with the closure of short courses in 2015 – my advice is to look at doing the ECT or BhSc EMC degrees at UJ, DUT or CPUT.

  10. Wonderul article! We are linking to this particularly great post on our website.

    Keep up the good writing.

  11. Woah! I’m really digging the template/theme of this site. It’s simple, yet
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  12. gratee Says:

    i would like to study paramedic, but in a paramedic school. I live in Gauteng, Johannesburg can someone give me info on where is the nearest school

  13. Anthony Says:

    Missing ND EMC? It is the same level of practice as CCA, however it is the university route rather than the short course route.not sure if you want to mention the changes that should take place soon with regards to the short courses and other courses that have been removed and will be replaced

    • Will do so…
      Have neglected this blog badly!

      Didn’t mention NDip as it had already been discontinued, and as far as I understand has been replaced by BhScEMC the Bachelor’s degree, and ECT – which I think is a National Certificate qualification?

      Corrections and further information on what to include would be appreciated.

  14. voodoo1 Says:

    Sadly about 60% of this article was taken straight from wikipedia. Though your own edited stuff was excellent. The only problem I saw was that of the ECT scope of practice. Their scope falls a lot closer to that of the CCA’s than AEA. They have advanced airway (which AEA’s don’t), as well as a much larger array of drugs, >20, as compared to the AEA scope of just 6. You also did not mention the ECA (Emergency Care Assistant, 1 year study duration) being introduced in 2016.

    • Correct!

      This article was done in a rush purely to educate a foreign forum on how SA EMS works.

      When I wrote this I was still VERY new to the EMS and it wasn’t yet clear (to most people what the ECT scope was – being the newest qualification).

      I hadn’t included ECA as it hadn’t been announced/divulged. Will do it in my update post regarding the movement of EMS to a more professional tertiary level.

      Any advice/comments would be most appreciated regarding that topic.

      Either drop a comment or an email: fromwannabetomedic@gmail.com

  15. Batteredknight Says:

    As a fresh BEMC student id just like to add my thanks to those already here, you helped me a bunch.

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