“Since its launch 20 years ago, Netcare 911 has assisted close on three million people in their time of need and helped to save the lives of many people, both within our country and beyond its borders.”
So said Dr Richard Friedland, chief executive officer of the Netcare Group, who was speaking on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the emergency medical services provider. “Netcare 911 has, from relatively humble beginnings, grown into a household name,” added Dr Friedland, who was chief operating officer of Netcare at the time, and played an integral role in the launch of the organisation in August 1998.
“At the time, Netcare 911 formed part of Trauma-Link, a new division and joint venture between Netcare and Europ Assistance, then the largest travel assistance company world-wide. Initially, and for several years, the service was endorsed and sponsored by Vodacom prior to the beginning of a new sponsorship and branding agreement which was concluded with Telkom in 2014, a much valued partnership which persists to this day.”
Dr Friedland says Netcare 911, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Netcare, was launched with a strong community focus in the greater Johannesburg, KwaZulu-Natal and Port Elizabeth areas in 1998 and, by the following year, had expanded to provide cover across the country and has since become one of the largest emergency medical service providers on the African continent.
“The intention behind the establishment of Netcare 911 was to uphold the sanctity of life by providing an outstanding emergency medical service to our communities, and we are grateful that the organisation has been able to deliver on this objective over the last two decades.
“Netcare 911’s success is attributable to the extraordinary commitment of our dedicated paramedics who, supported by an efficient administrative team, serve communities across our country 24 hours a day, every day.
“South Africa suffers from a pandemic of trauma caused by motor vehicle accidents, violent crime and general accidents and through the commitment of our Netcare 911 colleagues, we have been privileged to provide emergency medical assistance to those in their time of need, including caring for several hundred thousand uninsured members of our communities since inception. We owe our colleagues in Netcare 911 a considerable debt of gratitude”, Dr Friedland notes.
In 2010, during the national strike in the public sector hospitals, Netcare 911 members supported Netcare hospitals in providing transport, in hospital treatment and lifesaving support at no cost, to over 872 abandoned and critically ill patients, including over 200 babies as well as many mothers’ giving birth.
Netcare 911 was also on hand and heavily involved in treating and evacuating many of the 78 seriously wounded victims of the Marikana massacre in August 2012 in which 34 miners lost their lives. Netcare 911 paramedics delivered extensive life-saving treatment on site and co-ordinated the evacuation of dozens of wounded miners on the day.
“Many people have also got to know Netcare 911 through its strong presence along our major roads during holiday periods and at numerous major sporting events. Our paramedics have also played a strong educational role over the years at schools and public health awareness events.”
According to Dr Friedland, continued growth and on-going quality of service improvements have been hallmarks of Netcare 911’s journey throughout the years. These have been achieved through the adoption of international best clinical practices, as well as embracing leading-edge technology. Today Netcare 911 operates from 79 bases and has 200 ambulances and emergency response vehicles which are strategically based in all nine provinces of South Africa.
“The result is an award-winning emergency service that is not only highly responsive but also sustainable. It has garnered numerous awards and accolades over the years including the ‘Air Ambulance Provider of the Year’ adjudicated by the International Travel Insurance Journal, which was a first for an African-based provider, and in 2007, Netcare 911 was voted as South Africa’s top healthcare brand.”
“Netcare 911’s processes have been honed to the point that it takes, on average, just 54 seconds to log an emergency call and less than a minute to dispatch an ambulance or other emergency response vehicle through its high-technology emergency operations centre (EOC) in Midrand, Gauteng, which manages just under one million calls every year.”
Reflecting back on the last 20 years, Dr Friedland says there have been so many notable highlights and successes in the organisation, that it is extremely difficult to isolate just a few of these.
According to Netcare 911’s managing director, Craig Grindell, the company is one of only a few operations within the Netcare Group that was purpose developed rather than acquired.
“This has enabled us to focus on technology and training to assist us in achieving and maintaining the highest clinical and operational standards. It has also made it possible for us to develop the capacity to deliver a comprehensive emergency medical service solution, as well as having self-owned infrastructural capabilities to sustain these services,” he observes.
Grindell believes that Netcare 911’s high level of community involvement has contributed to the brand becoming so widely known and respected. He says involvement in a number of popular events such as the Comrades, Two Oceans and Soweto marathons, Midmar Mile, 947 Cycle Challenge, the 2010 FIFA World Cup event, and many others, has assisted in raising Netcare 911’s public profile.
“In addition, Netcare has participated in a number of well-publicised rescues and humanitarian missions in Africa and other parts of the world including the ‘Buyis Ekhaya’ – Bring our People Home – campaign, when Netcare 911 spearheaded a rescue mission to Indonesia after the devastating tsunami of December 2005.
“This was not the first or last time that Netcare 911 contributed to a mission of this kind. We also rendered assistance following the earthquakes in Turkey in 1999, Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002, the 2009 floods in India, the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 and the drought in Kenya in 2012.”
Grindell says that Netcare 911 has developed a comprehensive emergency service, which includes a specialised 24-hour helicopter emergency medical service, as well as an ICU-configured jet ambulance service staffed by doctors, paramedics and nurses for national and international patient transfer. An intensive care unit ambulance service has also been established for the transfer of high-risk, critical adult and paediatric patients between medical facilities.
“Netcare 911 has made a considerable investment in the technology used in its 24-hour emergency operations centre, which is usually a person’s first point of contact with us. Custom designed integrated call taking, the capability of geo-locating callers, integrated dispatch system technology in the emergency operations centre and global positioning and satellite tracking technology in the emergency vehicles, enable the nearest emergency response team to quickly be dispatched to and reach an emergency scene whilst medical advice can be provided to the caller.”
“Specialist emergency medical support has become an increasingly valued and important service within South Africa and on the African continent. We believe the future looks every bit as promising today as it was when the service was launched 20 years ago.
“However, it is the men and women in the Netcare 911 family who have shown exceptional dedication to their patients and profession, who are the pillars of Netcare 911 success, and whom we celebrate on this milestone occasion. We pay homage to each and every one of our staff members as well as to our current and previous leadership teams and thank them for their outstanding service to the company and the country throughout the years,” concludes Grindell.