Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Patria-Kaye Aarons | 119 fails again

Published:Tuesday | April 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM

On Sunday night at 10:23, someone ran into the back of my car.

I immediately jumped out and discovered a man in the middle of the road with his bike strewn beside him. He was wailing in agony, bawling that his leg was broken, and you could see the thing bent at the shin at a sharp angle. He was also bleeding from the forehead.

I called 119. They answered after eight rings. Having heard from me what had transpired, the lady on the other end assured me that she was dispatching a team to assist.


Twenty minutes later: no police, no ambulance. This surprised me because we were no more than three minutes away from the Half-Way Tree Police Station. I redialled 119.

This time, they answered on the first ring. I quickly explained that there was a bike man who had met in an accident and needed transportation to the hospital. The response I got:

"119 doesn't offer ambulance services".

Flabbergasted by the response I had got, I was sure I never communicated clearly. I repeated my appeal, adding details about having reported the matter earlier and being told that help was on the way.

She cared zero.

"119 doesn't offer ambulance services", she flatly repeated.

Here's how the rest of our exchange played out.

PKA: So what should I do?

119: Call an ambulance.

PKA: Hoooowwww?

119: Don't be rude.

PKA: I'm not being rude.

119: You can't expect to call 119 and get an ambulance.

PKA: Seriously! Now is not the time to school me. I have an emergency.

119: Really .... (silence)

PKA: I'm having an emergency. What number do I call to get an ambulance?

She recites the number for a private ambulance service. I hang up. I call. They answer. They tell me they have no ambulances available.

For Christ's sake!

1. Who knew that 119 couldn't assist in getting an ambulance? They used to be able to. When did that change? And if it did, when was the public told, and how? Did I miss that memo?

2. Who made up this dumb rule?

3. What other things doesn't 119 assist with? Is it that specific emergencies have specific numbers? Does fire have a separate number? Is there a separate housebreaking hotline?

4. What other numbers should I be teaching kids to call if they have an emergency?

5. Do the police no longer feel the need to come to the scene of an accident? Is there no help that they can render? Direct traffic? Help with transporting the injured?

6. Why is 119 recommending a private ambulance service? Don't we have government-owned and -operated ambulances anymore?

7. I called the private service back an hour and 25 minutes later to ask if they yet had an ambulance available (purely for research). The answer was no. Why is an ill-equipped private ambulance service being recommended by 119?

I'm baffled, I'm angry, I'm deeply worried. Why can't we get it right? Crap like this reminds me every day that with all the fancy roads and advanced telecommunications and big universities, we are still Third World nuh bahind. And until and unless we get serious about the little things, everything else will mean diddly squat.

We eventually transported the injured man and his bike to the hospital ourselves. He's on the mend.

To the dispatcher who answered the phone, training cannot help you. You are a hazard to health and safety. Time and place, man. This may just be a job to you. An inconvenient means to earn a pay cheque. But to the rest of us, it's a matter of life and death. And you and your ego have no place in that equation.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to and, or tweet @findpatria.