Deputy Public Protector’s observations during her assessment of healthcare facilities in Eastern Cape to be brought to the attention of relevant authorities
A report detailing Deputy Public Protector Adv. Kholeka Gcaleka’s findings following her tour of four public healthcare facilities in the Eastern Cape last week will be concluded in about 60 days. The national and provincial Departments of Health as well as other relevant stakeholders will be furnished with copies, with a view to having the issues addressed urgently while also seeing to it that the state of public healthcare in the province improves. Affected parties will be granted an opportunity to comment on the report before it is finalised.
Adv. Gcaleka, Chief Operations Officer Mr. Charles Mohalaba and a team of investigators for the Public Protector’s Eastern Cape office spent last Tuesday and Wednesday inspecting hospitals in the Nelson Mandela Bay and Mthatha areas, where they were exposed to a raft of systemic challenges which appeared to obstruct the efficient provision of healthcare services to the public.
The Public Protector, as an independent institution with a constitutional mandate to support and strengthen constitutional democracy through the investigation of any conduct in state affairs or public administration that is alleged or suspected to be improper or prejudicial, is empowered to launch own-initiative investigations to resolve matters of concern in any sphere of government.
At Uitenhage and Livingstone hospitals in Nelson Mandela Bay, and Mthatha General and Nessie Knight hospitals in the Mthatha area, Adv. Gcaleka got to see first-hand the challenging conditions which staff and patients have to endure during the provision and accessing of public healthcare services.
At Nessie Knight, she was shown a dilapidated structure which serves as the healthcare facility for the local community. Paint peeling off walls, cracked walls, broken washing machines, torn linen and toilets shared by males and females were some of the worrying observations. The facility, according to management, had no oxygen point and relied on the old gas cylinder oxygen, which staff have to push around from one ward to the next in order to provide oxygen support to patients.
Laundry services were completely non-existent at the facility and the washing machines were said to be irreparable. This, according to hospital management, was exacerbated by lack of well-maintained vehicles to transport dirty laundry to a nearby hospital for washing.
Secure supply of water amid the COVID-19 pandemic, where personal hygiene is of paramount importance, is important especially in healthcare environments. This was however not the case at this facility as observed by Adv. Gcaleka. The facility depended on unreliable boreholes and tanks for water.
In an effort to paint a picture of the magnitude of the challenges at the facility, management also showed Adv. Gcaleka old caravans currently used as makeshift accommodation for staff at the facility while a decent nursing home was nearing completion a couple of metres away. The kitchen at the facility, Adv. Gcaleka observed, was not in the kind of condition ideal for a hospital setting.
Across the facilities visited, other issues that were raised sharply included accusations by unions and staff that the management and provincial
authorities were not providing enough support to those on the frontline fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
They bemoaned, amongst other things, inadequate provision of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for staff working in high risk areas, hospital linen, laundry services, shortage of staff and costly delays in the filling of senior management positions.
Lack of beds for the trauma and medical emergency was also raised as a concern. According to staff, this led to the overflow of patients in the corridors of the hospitals. The management erected makeshift marquees to deal with the overflow but the strong coastal gale force winds often made it difficult for staff to execute their responsibilities without any challenges.
The contracting of COVID-19 by staff members working on the frontline was also brought to the attention of Adv. Gcaleka, with unions accusing management of not doing enough to protect workers.
Responding to the issues raised, Adv. Gcaleka assured management, staff, unions and the patients she interacted with across all four facilities that her office would work with all relevant stakeholders to ensure that all concerns were resolved timeously.
“We have made our observations on the situation in the province and it is worrying. We are going to bring all these challenges to the attention of government and work together with all stakeholders to see to it that the issues raised are attended to speedily,” she said, further thanking staff at the facilities for continuously ensuring that patients were taken care of despite the difficult conditions under which they work.
The tour of the facilities was part of efforts by the institution to focus on the COVID-19 related matters which have inundated the office over the last four months. The Public Protector, Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane, has written to several Ministers, including that of Health, in a bid to discuss issues raised with her office, the idea being to find ways of resolving all the grievances as speedily as practically possible.