Khayelitsha Hospital: ‘Where people go to die’

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It was the first hospital to be built in the Western Cape in 40 years, and dedicated to Cape Town’s largest township, the fastest-growing in South Africa. Now, says a Sunday Times report, the 300-bed hospital is overcrowded and dogged by staff shortages and allegations of mismanagement and corruption. Twenty employees are believed to have resigned last month. Staffing inadequacies are said to have resulted in deteriorating care and worsening mortality rates.

The report says Western Cape Health has confirmed that the hospital was overburdened with high patient numbers, at times operating at 130% bed occupancy. “The pressure experienced within the area is fuelled by alcohol and substance abuse and the rapid escalating quadruple burden of disease,” said spokesperson Mark van der Heever. He said the facility had a “high staff turnover, due to contract expiry and resignations”.

The report says , National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), community members and former employees of the hospital have told parliament’s select committee on petitions and executive undertakings about their frustrations. Dr Moses Witbooi of Nehawu said it had become difficult for union representatives to do their work due to multiple grievances, mainly about victimisation.

According to the report, a visit to the hospital showed a trauma unit overflowing. Some patients called it the “hospital where people go to die”. A patient who asked to be identified only as Mavis said it had become the norm for patients to sleep on the floor. “We don’t have much choice … it is the hospital closest to us. The service is so bad that some people die while waiting for a consultation. It has become the norm for people to die like this.”

Staff spoke of exhaustion, saying that they were burnt out. “We are simply not coping … the workload is enormous and with so many frozen posts we can hardly keep up,” said a staff member who asked not to be named. “Many of us are fearful to even raise the issues for fear of being targeted. The way the hospital is run is like a mafia club. If you speak up you are viewed as a troublemaker and must be disciplined.”

The report says the committee further heard that despite findings almost a year ago that declared that parts of the building were not compliant with fire and safety standards, nothing had been done to remedy this. Van der Heever said the areas of concern highlighted in the city fire report had since been fixed.

Former staff member Thandeka Konile Mdekazi told the committee she had been fired without a disciplinary hearing after being accused of being rude to a colleague. Former human resources manager Abduragmaan Ernstzen said he fell out of favour with management when he queried irregularities such as the manipulation of performance reports, hiring of unqualified staff and nepotism. He was then victimised.

Cape Metro Health Forum chair Damaris Kiewiets said the hospital’s problems showed it was a “rushed political project”. She said: “The fact is that it is too small to serve such a big community. The Democratica Alliance government rushed it to comply with their election promises.”

Van der Heever said: “We are putting effort into improving services and the quality of care.”

Sunday Times report Subscription needed


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