MEC outraged by HIV segregation

Estelle Ellis and Lindile Sifile  elllise@avusa.co.za


OUTRAGED Health MEC Sicelo Gqobana discovered HIV-positive patients being forced to queue for medical assistance at a separate entrance at the Sundays Valley Hospital in Kirkwood yesterday.


The shocked MEC immediately ordered hospital management to buy a padlock and lock the special entrance.


Gqobana visited the hospital as part of a province-wide series of surprise visits, triggered, among other reasons, by an alarming number of malpractice lawsuits against the department.


Health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said Gqobana had warned the Eastern Cape’s hospital managers he would not tolerate managers who “could not manage” and those who were not willing to do their jobs should “start negotiating their exit from the department”.


Kupelo said the MEC had been very upset by the HIV entrance.


“He condemned it as unconstitutional and said it must never, ever be opened again.”


Kupelo said the hospital had also been very dirty when they arrived yesterday morning. “The X-ray machines were malfunctioning and the doctors contracted to work there did not perform their duties adequately and were not always available to patients.


“We are concerned that we are not getting our money’s worth.”


He said the MEC had also received complaints about a slow ambulance service.


Gqobana promised to address the payment of outstanding benefits to staff members by the end of the month and also noted complaints of racism against the hospital administration.


According to information given by the Health Department, the Sundays Valley Hospital has 45 beds, six nurses, 16 nursing assistants and one full-time doctor who is assisted by sessional doctors at weekends.


Admissions to the hospital have increased by 6% but in-hospital deaths have risen by 26.8%.


Kupelo said Gqobana would continue to pay surprise visits to health facilities with the aim of improving service and putting corrective measures in place.


Gqobana said many state hospitals in the province had problems with malfunctioning X-ray machines. The department was addressing this by engaging a government-owned entity to assist with new machines for all 92 government hospitals in the province.


At the end of last year, several major problems with the Sundays Valley Hospital were identified by the department, including a lack of infrastructure which could increase the risk of infection, and inadequate data-capturing facilities which impaired patient management.


 A provincial Health Department delegation also visited the Komani Hospital in Queenstown yesterday. Staff at the psychiatric institution had complained of food shortages and poor treatment of patients.


They claimed the food shortage had seen patients being put on a diet of soup and bread, some patients were forced to sleep on sponge mattresses on the floor due to a shortage of beds, some mattresses had been cut in half so they could be used by two adult patients, cleaners were exposed to violent patients and patients had been left wearing the same clothes for days because of a malfunctioning laundry.


They claimed the problems were the result of poor management.


However, Health Department officials and the hospital’s management painted a rosier picture yesterday and invited a reporter to the hospital to show the fully stocked store rooms.


Hospital chief executive Mandisa Oliphant, who was grilled earlier by the health officials, said all was well at the hospital.


“I have receipts and menus to show we have food in our storeroom. It’s not true we are not feeding our patients,” Oliphant said.


However, she acknowledged that the laundry had not been working properly because of the shortage of machines.


The hospital also denied mattresses had been cut in half, but conceded some patients slept on “floor beds” when the wards were too full. Acting specialised services director Dr Tobela Nogela said floor beds were specially used for “acute patients”.


 “They are different from other patients. They are destructive. They destroy everything. Yes, there are not enough beds and even if there were, they would break them and hurt each other.”


The department’s director of communications, Siyanda Manana, said although the hospital had challenges, the allegations of poor management were the result of divisions among some workers and the management. Gqobana is due to visit the hospital today.


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