Ngqamakwe community flood the Public Protector with service delivery complaints
Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela and her deputy, Adv. Kevin Malunga, kicked-off the Eastern Cape leg of their office’s National Stakeholder Dialogue with a surprise visit to Butterworth Clinic, where shortages of medical equipment and the ill-treatment of volunteer caregivers emerged as big problems.
Of the clinic's 12 consulting rooms, only three had blood pressure meters. Staff told the Public Protector that this had been the case since last year. Other equipment in short supply included glucometers, diagnostic sets and haemoglobino meters.
Staff told the Public Protector and her deputy that they had placed orders for the equipment as far back as April 2013 but were yet to hear from suppliers nearly four months later.
The clinic, which operated for only eight hours a day, services a population of more than 38 000 people. On average, about 6000 patients walk through the doors of the facility on a monthly basis. It has placed about 1000 patients on ARV treatment.
Having first opened its doors to the community in 1998, the clinic boasts a doctor, 14 professional nurses, eight nursing assistants and three staffers attached to a local Non-Governmental Organisation.
The Public Protector was, however, shocked to learn that the facility did not have an administration clerk and was instead using two fully qualified nurses to do administration work, including manning the front desk.
While there, the Public Protector also heard from two staff members, who complained that they were still being paid a monthly stipend of R1500 even though they were no longer mere caregivers from NGOs. They told her they had since trained to become Auxiliary Nurses and were working as such.
At a later meeting with community members in Ngqamakwe, allegations of ill-treatment of patients by staff at the same clinic were among the more than 500 complaints lodged with the Public Protector.
A total of 534 new complaints were registered during the meeting. One hundred and thirty-five (135) of these related to health while 171 concerned poverty. The rest (228) had to do with general matters such as electricity and roads.
At least two locals raised issues about the ridicule they had been subjected to at the hands of nurses - an issue that is becoming a common theme in this year's Public Protector National Stakeholder Dialogue. Similar occurrences were reported in Western Cape during the Public Protector's interaction stakeholders in that province last week.
One woman claimed that her husband had passed away after medical staff at Butterworth Hospital failed to afford him the medical attention he needed last December. She told the Public Protector that, instead, a doctor and a nurse made fun of her inability to clearly articulate her late husband's ailment.
The woman, who has since registered a complaint with the Public Protector, said the two staff members further told her they couldn't help as she had brought her husband during the holiday season and the hospital was running on skeleton staff.
"I know them, I can identify them," said the woman, in response to the Public Protector's question. The matter would be assessed for investigation, the Public Protector told the woman.
A volunteer community-based healthcare giver, who said she'd been working as such since 2001, told the Public Protector that she has had to make one of her two children drop out of school because she could not afford the R250 transport fee she paid for each of them.
Dismissing her monthly stipend of R1500 as meagre, the woman said she had applied for several healthcare work opportunities at public facilities without luck.
An elderly woman complained about inadequate food and blankets for patients at Ngqamakwe hospital. There were also few doctors, she said, adding that ambulance services were also a problem in the area.
Complaints about clinics that did not have piped water, long waiting periods for medical attention and mobile clinic services that were not reaching remote communities due to poor roads were also registered.
Other complaints related to problems with housing, sanitation, pensions and leave gratuity payments for former bureaucrats, social grants, electricity, unemployment, inadequate business opportunities, food parcels that were allegedly being distributed to undeserving people, and poor of access to land for agricultural purposes.
In addition, a man complained that he had lost his job and was unable to access government and other services because he was registered as "deceased" in government records. Carrying a copy of "his" death certificate, the man told the Public Protector that he only noticed the problem when he came out of a coma following a near-fatal car accident.
Pleading with the Public Protector to help, the man said the Department of Home Affairs had promised to sort the problem out but nothing had happened to date.
MEC for Health, Sicelo Gqobana, told the packed hall that he had heard their grievances and would take it upon himself to sort out problems at the local hospital and clinic. He said his department was aware of the problems and was working hard to improve the quality of services.
Pointing out that his department was not adequately resourced; MEC Gqobana said the department was unable to replace cleaners and administrators that had left service. Priority was given to health care professionals, he said.
"You wait in the queues for long because the nurses must first clean the clinic premises before they can help you," he said.
The Public Protector promised to work with government to follow up on all the matters brought to her attention. Urgent matters would be treated as such, she said.
"The idea is to improve public health care services, not to police anyone," the Public Protector said. "We are travelling with a senior official from the Department of Health, who is taking note of all these challenges."
She noted that the official, together with provincial colleagues, and the MEC had undertaken to resolve all the issues that required urgent attention.
The dialogue, which is coupled with a public hearing, focuses on strengthening government's ability to deliver on Millennium Development Goals, with a particular emphasis on improving healthcare services and eradicating poverty.
It heads off to Osner Hotel in East London on Wednesday, July 31, 2O13 at 10H00. The Public Protector will, however, start off with a surprise visit at Frere and/or Cecilia Makiwane Hospital - this one detail is not for publication prior to the visit.