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Title: An analysis of emergency response times within the public sector emergency medical services in KwaZulu-Natal
Authors: Finlayson, Melissa Joy 
Issue Date: 2017
Introduction: Response times are considered to be one of the oldest and most popular indicators which are used to measure the efficiency of Emergency Medical Services (EMS), particularly to cases in which the patient’s condition is deemed to be life threatening.

Purpose: To analyse emergency response times within the public sector Emergency Medical Services in KwaZulu-Natal and to compare these to the national norms.

Methods: Using a mixed method approach, the study was conducted in two phases. The first phase involved collecting quantitative data for all the cases logged in the Umgungundlovu Health District Communications Centre over a period of one week (seven days). Phase Two involved the collection of qualitative data from focus group discussions which were conducted with three groups which had been identified. These groups included the communications centre staff, operational staff and supervisory staff. The aim of these focus group discussions was to identify factors that influenced response times as well as to propose strategies which would improve these response times. Content analysis was utilised to interpret the qualitative data which had been collected.

Results: Quantitative data was collected from a total of 1 503 cases of which 680 were categorised as priority 1 (P1), 270 as priority 2 (P2) and 553 as inter facility transfer (IFT). The majority of the cases (895) had occurred in urban areas. A total of 406 cases were exempted as no patient was transported. The number of these cases was greater on days when the total case load was higher as compared to days with a lower total case load. The mean response time to cases in rural areas was 129 minutes and 110 minutes to cases in urban areas. All the time intervals were found to be longer for cases in rural areas as compared to those for cases in urban areas but with the exception of the EMD response interval. P1 cases had the shortest mean response times for both urban area cases (33 minutes) and rural area cases (95 minutes) as compared to the other case categories. Nevertheless, the national norm of 15 minutes in urban areas and 40 minutes in rural areas was not achieved in the majority of the cases. The mean Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) response interval was 41 minutes for P1 cases, 56 minutes for P2 cases and 96 minutes for IFT cases.

The qualitative data revealed factors that impacted on the response times and helped to explain and account for the quantitative data results. Challenges regarding the availability of resources, including vehicles, staff and equipment, as well as the way in which such resources are managed, were highlighted. The high demand for services compared to the available resources was raised by the focus group participants with this high demand resulting in extended EMD response intervals. This was exacerbated by the overwhelming demand for IFT cases which are serviced by the same resources as emergency cases and which have a much longer mission time, thus delaying response times continuously. Exempt cases were also found to impact negatively on response times as, although operational vehicles are committed to these cases, services are not required. Inconsistencies with regards to case prioritisation and dispatch triage also emerged. External factors, including poor road infrastructure, lack of road names and house numbers, weather conditions and long distances between EMS bases, the patient or incident location and health care facilities were also identified as factors that resulted in extended response times. Strategies to improve the situation were explored. These strategies included the effective management of resources in order to ensure optimal availability, the introduction of a formal, computer aided, dispatch system, the adoption of demand pattern analysis and dynamic location/relocation models, standardised processes and procedures to guide all areas of EMS operations and the education of both the public and staff.

Conclusion: South African EMS response time national norms for both rural and urban areas are unachievable under the majority of circumstances and, thus, they may be said to be unrealistic. Until these national norms, against which the efficiency of EMS in South Africa is measured, are revised, the service will be deemed to be incompetent.
Submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Health Sciences in Emergency Medical Care, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa, 2017.
Appears in Collections:Theses and dissertations (Health Sciences)

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