Meeting national response time targets for priority 1 incidents in an urban emergency medical services system in South Africa: More ambulances won’t help

Christopher Stein, Lee Wallis, Olufemi Adetunji


Background. Response time is viewed as a key performance indicator in most emergency medical services (EMS) systems.

Objective. To determine the effect of increased emergency vehicle numbers on response time performance for priority 1 incidents in an urban EMS system in Cape Town, South Africa, using discrete-event computer simulation.

Method. A simulation model was created, based on input data from part of the EMS operations. Two different versions of the model were used, one with primary response vehicles and ambulances and one with only ambulances. In both cases the models were run in seven different scenarios. The first scenario used the actual number of emergency vehicles in the real system, and in each subsequent scenario vehicle numbers were increased by adding the baseline number to the cumulative total.

Results. The model using only ambulances had shorter response times and a greater number of responses meeting national response time targets than models using primary response vehicles and ambulances. In both cases an improvement in response times and the number of responses meeting national response time targets was observed with the first incremental addition of vehicles. After this the improvements rapidly diminished and eventually became negligible with each successive increase in vehicle numbers. The national response time target for urban areas was never met, even with a seven-fold increase in vehicle numbers.

Conclusion. The addition of emergency vehicles to an urban EMS system improves response times in priority 1 incidents, but alone is not capable of the magnitude of response time improvement needed to meet the national response time targets.

Authors' affiliations

Christopher Stein, Department of Emergency Medical Care, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Lee Wallis, Division of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Olufemi Adetunji, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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Emergency medical services; Response time; Computer simulation

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2015;105(10):840-844. DOI:10.7196/SAMJnew.8087

Article History

Date submitted: 2015-06-04
Date published: 2015-09-19

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