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ANC warns of imminent collapse of Western Cape healthcare system

While the Western Cape has a reputation for the most efficient healthcare system in the country, the ANC’s shadow MEC of Health Rachel Windvogel told IOL that the state of health in the province was fast deteriorating and “nearing collapse”.

A nurse at a government hospital slammed the lack of compassion and empathy in inexperienced, new nursing recruits, and said, among other issues, patients were dying from incorrect triages.

Windvogel said major challenges included the dilapidated infrastructure in hospitals such as Groote Schuur and Tygerberg.

“A number of key infrastructure projects are behind schedule and as a result, there are sections that are cordoned off and not functioning. This has a bearing on the functioning of other hospitals, especially in poor working-class communities because of increased service pressure from bed occupation by patients who should not have been transferred to these hospitals,” she said.

Service pressure across all district hospitals had become unbearable, she added, resulting in patients sleeping in chairs or on floors.

“The Khayelitsha District Hospital is a prime example. Hospital management requested an additional R150m to address critical staff and bed shortages and infrastructure needs, yet no additional funding had been allocated by the provincial government.

“This means patients will continue sleeping on floors,” she said.

While the provincial government brags about offering the best public healthcare, the reality was a collapsing system, Windvogel added. In rural communities, people wait days for an ambulance to transfer them to bigger hospitals in the city. Additionally, doctors visiting clinics in rural areas only issue prescriptions, without examining patients.

“Billions are spent annually on putting plasters over a gaping wound. The money being spent is not addressing the real challenges. A good example is the huge amount spent on agency personnel, when that money could rather be spent on recruiting permanent staff,” she said.

Speaking to IOL on condition of anonymity, a nurse at a local government hospital said while they tried their best to deliver a service to residents, there was much lacking in the sector.

“I have been a nurse for more than 15 years, and the nurses passing through this hospital seem to get worse every time. I work in the emergency unit, a fast-paced environment where thinking on your feet is the order of the day.

“We are inundated with work but we usually manage; however, as an experienced nurse, it is very sad watching how the latest intake of nurses have no feeling towards patients.

“People have died because of incorrect triages: the new nurses don’t know how to speak to people, and in turn, they are pissing off the very community we took an oath to serve,” she said.

While she believes nursing is her calling, she has expressed interest in moving to the private sector because “it would serve my conscience better”.

“I love what I do, but for the amount of work, of which crime is a major factor, the money we are paid and the inexperience we get as assistance – the private sector will be a better fit for me,” she told IOL.

Shanaaz Suliman, a patient at Groote Schuur and Lady Michaelis Community Health Centre in Plumstead, said she had no complaints about service, efficiency or infrastructure.

The 71-year-old from Steenberg has been treated for cancer and is currently being treated for thyroid problems.

“If I could change anything it would be that patients do not have to wait so long for pills. It would also be much better if the elderly could see a doctor earlier,” she said.

Another patient had a different perspective on state hospitals.

Since 2020, Candice van der Rheede, director of the Western Cape Missing Persons Unit (WCMPU), has been in and out of hospitals after her lung collapsed.

Her first stay was at Mitchells Plain District Hospital. “They did regular check-ups. Cleaners came to check floors, railings etc and cleaned every hour. The ward was spotless. Security was always there. If help was needed and you buzzed for help, nurses came immediately,” she told IOL.

While she praised the thoracic ward at Groote Schuur Hospital, she did not mince her words when it came to its ICU ward.

“I was transferred to Groote Schuur for a thoracotomy on my lung. Our room was in the middle of the menʼs ward. They (men) had easy access to our ward. We constantly had to stay awake and watch our things.

“One night I woke up and saw one of them standing and watching us ladies,” Van der Rheede said.

Things were worse after she moved to the ICU ward. “I had just come out of the operating room and a senior nurse roughly pushed me over on to my side to check for bed sores.

“The epidural did not work so I was in terrible pain. The surgeons had cut me from the front right of my body all around to the middle of my back.

“I had various pipes coming out of me but this woman just roughly rolled me over. I also rebuked her about she spoke to people. ICU is where you go to heal. The last thing you need is someone being rude. Also, if you pressed the buzzer, no one would come. The nurses were not kind to patients.”

Last November, a regular check-up resulted in Van der Rheede having to stay overnight at Tygerberg Hospital.

“I had been for a general check-up and had an X-ray: they saw a clot and I had to stay overnight in the trauma section. Tygerberg is wonderful. Doctors and nurses make you feel at home, but in their trauma unit we were men and women sleeping in one room. I had a big problem with that. I couldn’t sleep that night.”

On the other hand, she told IOL, she commended the Mitchells Plain District Hospital for its impeccable service: she also praised the Symphony Clinic in Delft for its high standard of service and cleanliness.


IOL article – State of SA Hospitals: Western Cape has ’most efficient’ health care in country but fears grow of deterioration (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Dysfunctional provincial health departments make a mockery of the ‘capable state’


DA demands commission of inquiry into state of public health


SA’s public hospital staffing disaster: 12,000 vacancies for nurses and doctors


Scramble to fund nursing and medical intern posts


Tygerberg Hospital plea for more specialised nurses


Donations plea to fund Groote Schuur’s 6,000 surgery patients’ backlog


Cape Town’s Tygerberg Hospital is a ‘shopping centre’ for crooks




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