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HomeNews UpdateCable theft rife at state hospitals because of security failures

Cable theft rife at state hospitals because of security failures

Gauteng Health spends R59m a month on rolling contracts to hospital security providers, writes Thabo Molelekwa in Spotlight, yet spokesperson Motaletale Modiba said the department has lost more than R4.5m in copper pipes and R917 297 in copper cables/wires through theft and fire – a total loss of about R5.4m.

These losses were for the 2021/22 and 2022/23 financial years.

Among hospitals reporting cable theft in the past six months are the Lenasia South District Hospital, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH), and Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHBAH).

‘Non-existent security’

A specialist gastroenterologist at CMJAH, Professor Adam Mahomed, said there had been several thefts at the hospital recently, including cables and copper piping being ripped up from the floors.

“These things need a big vehicle to remove them. This means security will have to be involved since this bulk has to exit through the gate, where there is security.”

In a case reported in December, a security manager was reportedly found to be involved in theft, brazenly driving the stolen goods out of the premises in his vehicle.

This happened after a new security company was appointed after a fire at the hospital in March 2021.

In January this year, piping that was stolen affected oxygen and water in the block, “and water pipes and cables were stolen from ward 586 and oxygen piping from a section above the transplant ward in area 561”.

There is security as well as cameras in this area.

Not only is the ongoing theft ignored by health authorities, Mahomed added, but security is being paid for what he calls “non-existent services” and “abuse of nurses and doctors, when they search bags for small things while millions are being stolen”.

Security contracts

Concerns have been voiced about how security contracts are awarded and how these companies are held accountable. Mahomed said these were big contracts which go through the Gauteng Department of Health, meaning hospital management is not involved.

However, no one is being held accountable. “There are no court cases and no one’s going to jail.”

Responding to the concerns, Modiba said the security tender for hospitals was advertised twice, in 2016 and 2020, and subsequently cancelled due to irregularities.

The contracts are now being extended on a month-to-month basis until the new contract is in place. “The department is re-advertising the tender to ensure competitive bidding,” he said.

Despite several follow-up requests by Spotlight since 16 March for a date when the tender would be re-advertised, Modiba couldn’t provide a date or a reason for its delay.

Scandalous and indefensible

During a question and answer session in the Gauteng legislature recently, DA MPP and spokesperson for health in the province Jack Bloom had asked Gauteng Health MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko about the security contracts and costs, pointing out that they were last awarded in 2014, to expire in November 2016.

“For more than six years now, the Auditor-General has been scathing about the irregular rolling over of these contracts on a month-by-month basis. It’s scandalous … that hospitals are not getting good security … these contracts should have been awarded long ago,” he said.

Concerns over staff and patient safety

The theft of copper piping supplying oxygen to critical areas like ICU and theatre not only causes disruption, but also entails extra planning and more hands on deck, said Yandisa Zungula, a member of trade union Denosa and a nurse at CHBAH.

A control room where pipes were cut and stolen “was a locked place that not even the hospital staff have access to”.

“Only the maintenance people have access, so if someone can just get in and cut vital pipes and cables… how secure are we as the staff and patients?”

Zungula also questioned the monthly security contracts. “There are people benefiting from this chaos. It is done deliberately for someone to profit and continue to benefit from a contract that is not advertised.”

Thefts denied

CMJAH’s spokesperson Tabudi Madisha denied cable thefts had affected the hospital’s operations, adding that the Gauteng Department of Health was responsible for the security of all facilities.

He said employees’ safety was a top priority, “which is why we have security on site 24/7 and have increased the number of cameras in high-risk areas”.

Gauteng Health’s Modiba also said that neither CHBAH nor CMJAH had experienced any cable theft or that operations had been affected.

“The cable theft at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital took place during the fire,” he said. “After assessments, corrective measures were taken, including termination of the contract of the former security company.” The fire occurred in March 2021.

The security company has since been replaced by Mafoko Security Patrols, which is responsible for security at both hospitals. However, the company is not responsible for all health facilities in Gauteng.

Despite the spokespeople denying the thefts, the SAPS confirmed that two cases had been opened relating to incidents at CMJAH in December and January.

There had been one arrest in one case but both cases are under investigation.

Lebo Nare, director of Mafoko Security Patrols, also confirmed a case of theft had been reported at CMJAH in January, “by someone with authorised access to certain areas … the suspect was employed by a contractor who had intricate knowledge of locating critical infrastructure and its value,” he said.

Nare said a report was submitted to hospital management, with recommendations, and a case was opened with SAPS.

Regarding CHBAH, Colonel Mavela Masondo confirmed a case of theft and attempted murder was opened at Diepkloof police station, however, no arrests were made and the case is still under investigation.

Feeling the impact

Meanwhile, the South African Medical Association (Sama) has also expressed concern over the thefts.

“Our doctors are in an untenable situation of having to juggle providing quality care to patients and managing infrastructure problems caused by load shedding and cable theft,” said Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa, chairperson of Sama.

Without electricity (either through load shedding or cable theft) patients’ lives are at risk.

According to Dr Edward Ngwenya, Sama’s vice chairperson, Sama members pledge to save lives as part of their oath to first do no harm, but their members want to work in an environment that can deliver quality health outcomes.

“When they have to work in a sub-optimal environment, this does not augur well,” he said. “It is reported that our doctors are administering intravenous lines in the dark, operating using cellphone lights after unexpected power failures and lack of backup power supply. This is not the way to work and administer professional healthcare.”

 

Spotlight article – In-depth: Ongoing security concerns at Gauteng hospitals amid reports of cable theft (Creative Commons Licence)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Gauteng to probe R708m in ‘irregular’ hospital security contracts

 

DA calls for new security at Charlotte Maxeke hospital

 

Bara thefts ‘deliberate sabotage’, says Health Department

 

Phaahla defends security group accused of liability for Charlotte Maxeke thefts

 

 

 

 

 

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