Conditions at Eastern Cape hospital slide back to ‘dismal’

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Sick patients have been forced to leave their beds at the Holy Cross Hospital in the Eastern Cape and head outside to a nearby stream to fetch their own water because taps in the government health facility ran dry. Health-e News reports that this scenario is part of an ongoing litany of horror stories that have unfolded at the hospital for several years now.

The report says back in August 2015 an NSP Review visit revealed a lack of access to running water – devastating for a hospital.

The water shortage has lasted just over a week – but was by no means the longest, as recurring water outages at the hospital have lasted up to six weeks. But, the report says, the water cut was just one of several problematic issues at the hospital that have been ongoing since January this year when members of the community around Holy Cross Hospital embarked on protest action, demanding improved health services.

The hospital currently services eleven traditional councils under Flagstaff’s Ingquza Hill Local Municipality.

Community leader Dumisani Mbangatha said patients were spending long hours in queues waiting to be treated, and there was a persistent shortage of doctors. “People who suffer from chronic illnesses are sent back home without their medication, and there is also a shortage of water,” he said. The community also claimed that the hospital was collapsing under the watch of CEO Gloria Mazek, and demanded that she step down.

The report says in response to the outcry Eastern Cape Health MEC Dr Phumza Dyantyi visited Holy Cross Hospital, and took possession of a memorandum detailing the community’s grievances. She selected a task team that comprises of all community stakeholders to investigate all the complaints raised. The team included delegates from St Elizabeth Hospital, Ingquza Hill Local Municipality, the St Elizabeth Hospital, the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa, the local youth council, the ANC and community development workers.

Holy Cross Hospital board chair Mthuthuzeli Sinukela said the Department of Health had not recruited new hospital staff for the past few years, apart from the appointment of a few doctors in line with the mandate of the Eastern Cape Department of Health. He denied claims by community leaders that the hospital lacked doctors, stating that the long waits experienced by patients was the result of a high patient load.

The report says over the past few months, while the investigations were ongoing, problems at the hospital continued and at one point the taps ran dry. Patients who were admitted at the time said they were told to find ways of sourcing their own water, as no other supplies or measures were put in place.

Officials claimed that a borehole that is the main supplier of water to the town was the cause of the water cut – which effected the entire area in which the hospital is situated. Ward councilor Pumla Dutshwa told community members that water would be restored soon and apologised as days passed before the water supply was finally restored.

One of the patients effected by the water cut, Babalwa Somsi, explained that she along with others had been instructed to go and fetch their own water, or go to their homes to wash and drink. “Some of us do not have families nearby and some are critically ill. We did not know what to do,” she said. It was this crisis that prompted some of the patients to venture outside to a local stream to get water, the report said.

The recent water crisis at Holy Cross Hospital comes long after a visit in 2013 by the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition. At that time a litany of issues was identified by the Office of the Health Standards Compliance (OHSC) as critical to the turnaround of the hospital, which, it found, was on the brink of total failure back then.

The OHSC was officially established in 2013 as one of government’s weapons against dysfunctional health facilities. It is an independent public entity that is legally empowered to monitor and enforce norms and standards in all health facilities, including private hospitals. The OHSC report confirmed that Holy Cross failed to meet basic standards, and it scored a dismal 43%.

The report described hospital management as weak, staff lacking in critical skills and facilities and equipment as poorly maintained. Some of the medicine in the pharmacy had expired. The fridge that was supposed to store laboratory specimens was set at 21°C, rendering it useless. These findings were sent both to the hospital and the Eastern Cape Crisis Action Coalition, an alliance of organisations formed to fight for better healthcare in the province.

Conditions improved for a while, and in a follow-up assessment by the OHSC, the hospital scored 60% last year – not quite the 80% required, but an improvement on the previous score.

But, the report says, the improved situation did not last for long, and by January this year patients were once again protesting against poor conditions at Holy Cross Hospital.

Investigations into the current situation have been concluded and MEC Dr Dyantyi returned to the hospital to collect the report outlining the findings of the task team’s investigation.

Provincial Health spokesperson Sizwe Khuphelo is quoted in the report as saying the MEC would be going through all the information and recommendations thoroughly before taking any action. The MEC has promised swift action based on the findings.

The report says it remains to be seen if the much-needed changes will be implemented. For the rural community the hospital serves, the situation is desperate.

Health-e News report

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