East London’s tertiary Frere Hospital, which serves nearly half – 2.8m – of the province’s 6m plus population, has reached crisis point, says a whistle-blower, singling out the drastic staff shortage, just one surgical day per week, a lack of 30 theatre nurses, and wards capable of accommodating 50 patients standing empty because of the lack of staff.
The hospital, the source told Daily Dispatch, used to have two or three surgical days weekly, but now focuses only on the worst emergencies, leaving a huge waiting list of those needing operations and other treatment.
This was because nurses and doctors retiring or resigning were not being replaced, the whistle-blower said.
“We are keeping the ship going with a shell of the staff we had before. Nothing is being done about this and there seems to be no political will to fix this. Our emergency load is excessive because people are not getting the surgeries they need.
“This is leading to the loss of even more staff because colleagues are frustrated and burnt out.”
Provincial health spokesperson Yonela Dekeda said the department was tackling the staff shortage around the province, based on the approved annual recruitment plan for the current financial year.
“The recruitment process is under way, with some positions expected to be filled before the end of August.
“At Frere Hospital, 30 speciality nurses resigned, retired, or transferred, and some died. Replacement is happening.”
The whistle-blower said the training of staff and junior doctors at Frere was also compromised “because there is not enough theatre time or surgical procedures”.
“There is a huge waiting list of people needing surgery. If you need a hip replacement, you have no chance until it is broken and you cannot walk. But even then, you have to wait days. Sometimes what could be a simple fix, what could be done in a day or two, becomes a costly and lengthy procedure.
“If, for example, a person has been in an accident, it takes much longer to have their wounds washed out and cleaned. This leads to infections and affects workloads because patients are kept in when they should be discharged. This also results in litigation.”
One nurse told the Dispatch that patients whose conditions were not life-threatening were turned away and told to return weeks or even months later.
“Two wards (C8 and C9) are empty, not because they are being renovated but because there is no staff to work in them. These wards can take more than 50 patients combined.”
Dedeka said general surgery and orthopaedic surgical services had been affected by the reduced theatre time.
“Emergencies are prioritised. Elective surgeries can be looked at in between. There are cases with long waiting periods due to the high demand for emergency treatment It must be noted, however, that the specialists at Frere are continually providing clinical support to patients awaiting beds.
“The department has noticed some relief since Cecilia Makiwane Hospital recruited another orthopaedic surgeon, and this is helping in the treatment of orthopaedic patients, alleviating pressure from other hospitals that ordinarily refer patients to Frere.”
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