PUBLIC healthcare in Nelson Mandela Bay is facing an unprecedented collapse, with widespread allegations of preventable deaths, desperate communities being left in the lurch by under-resourced clinics and an exodus of highly skilled specialists.
A multifaceted investigation into the state of the city’s public health facilities by The Herald has uncovered, among other things:
Residents being left to die in their homes after being misdiagnosed by unqualified ambulance assistants;
Clinics unable to call for emergency help because they have no telephones; and
Botched “routine” hospital operations ending in death.
Also, despite a crippling shortage of healthcare staff, 63% of the Health Department’s budget goes on salaries, leaving little funding for vitally important equipment and infrastructure.
A grief-stricken family told of how a six-year-old girl from NU29 in Motherwell died hours after she was turned away from a mobile clinic by staff who insisted they could only treat children five years old and under.
Community leader Thembisa Jacobs said the mobile clinic only assisted with the vaccination of children up to five years old.
Young Boniswa Mbuzweni died last October after her mother and grandmother desperately sought help for her. “The nurses at the mobile clinic told us the child was too sick and was over five, so they could not attend to her,” said Boniswa’s gran, Nomvuyo.
They were told to walk to another clinic for help, only to be told there to make their way to Livingstone Hospital’s trauma unit. Nomvuyo said at no time did the clinics offer to call an ambulance for the desperately ill girl.
“They referred us to hospital but the child died on our way there,” she said.
A critical lack of paramedics – there are just three covering the entire Bay and surrounding areas – has seen ambulance assistants having to make diagnoses they are not qualified to make.
In Booysen Park, former Veeplaas resident Mlondolozi Yekile, 30, asked friend Philile Feni to call an ambulance after he felt dizzy and weak in January.
“He vomited up everything he ate and he became weaker and dizzy. He asked me and his girlfriend to call an ambulance, but when it arrived, the ambulance staff said they could not take him to a hospital because he was not a serious case. They advised him to take epsom salts and Enos because they said he had an upset stomach,” said Feni.
Yekile’s condition deteriorated, but the ambulance refused to return, apparently claiming it had “seen to his condition”, according to friends and family.
His father, Lungile, was called upon to help organise transport to take Mlondolozi to Dora Nginza Hospital. “My son was very weak. After three hours in the hospital, the doctor came to inform me that he had died,” a visibly distressed Lungile recalled.
“The ambulance should have taken him to the hospital. Maybe then my son could have been alive still, but we got there too late.”
Also in Booysen Park, Nozanele Mafilika, 57, who was paralysed from the waist down following a stroke several years ago, died last August after an ambulance driver refused to fetch her from her home when she became ill late one night.
According to Busisiwe Mncanca, a caregiver for a local charity who used to assist Mafilika with her regular visits to the nearest clinic 3km away, Mafilika’s son and neighbours called for the ambulance after she began having trouble breathing one night.
Neighbour Bonelwa Makhanda said the ambulance driver refused to drive into the settlement.
“They told us to wait for them at the clinic at the Booysen Park Community Centre. We tried explaining to them that it was too far and that Makhulu (Mafilika) couldn’t walk, but the ambulance told us it was going to be difficult for them to come to our place. It was too dark for us to walk with a sick woman.
“No one had a car. We watched her suffer from her pains. She later died in the early hours of the morning,” said Makhanda.
With hospitals bogged down with an influx of patients who should be treated at clinics, routine operations are sometimes botched, as seems to have been the case with Lonwabo Welem, 29, who died last year after surgery at Livingstone Hospital.
Three months after the department promised Lonwabo’s traumatised mother, Florence, 63, answers as to why doctors seemingly botched a “routine operation”, the silence is deafening.
According to Florence, Lonwabo went for a minor operation to remove haemorrhoids. Instead, doctors allegedly removed a boil and “did not stitch him closed”.
“After they removed the boil, he was sent home with an open wound and no medication,” Florence tearfully recalled.
“I watched as his condition worsened daily. He couldn’t walk or sit upright. Out of desperation, I took him to the nearest clinic and even to Dora Nginza Hospital, but everyone kept referring us to Livingstone Hospital as they had done the previous operation.”
She said doctors told her they did not see the need for another operation. Lonwabo’s condition deteriorated further.
He died three months later in Dora Nginza Hospital.