Mthatha hospitals gravely ill
LONG WAIT TO HEALTH: People sleep over in order to see a doctor in time to catch the last taxi home the next day .
A SEVERE shortage of basic facilities, drugs and staff are crippling the Nelson Mandela Hospital Complex, where nurses recently had to use hospital gowns to clean women who had just given birth.
On a two-day visit to the Nelson Mandela and Mthatha General Hospitals (NMH and MGH) this week, a Daily Dispatch team watched nurses cleaning up a woman who had just given birth with a hospital gown because there were no swabs.
�We often have to do without basic stuff like swabs, gloves, linen and bandages,� one MGH staffer said, adding that they often went for weeks � even months � without gauze and instead had to use cotton wool, which is not recommended for procedures like mopping up bloody wounds and stemming the flow of blood.
The complex � whose third hospital, Bedford Hospital, lies just outside Mthatha � is buckling under the strain of an influx of patients from all over rural Transkei.
According to medical staff the complex was being pushed to the verge of collapse by the Department of Health�s failed down-referral system for medication.
This results in about two thirds of the province using the complex for primary and specialised health care � and to access drugs.
Operating with a 60 percent shortage of doctors was a major problem, said staff members.
Patients at the NMH complained about being stuck in long queues to see doctors and at the pharmacy.
Requesting anonymity for ethical reasons, a doctor explained: �Because of its academic capacity there are mostly interns and community service doctors, forcing us to refer patients out of town.�
On Monday afternoon last week patients at the hospital�s casualty unit said they were due to see doctors the following day but in order to avoid the long queues they preferred sleeping on the steel benches.
�I opt to sleep here because coming in the morning means spending the whole day here and missing connecting taxis home,� said TB patient Mkokheli Mtya from Gcaguba village outside Port St Johns.
At the MGH, linen cupboards lay bare, with ward housekeepers saying the laundry had not returned their much-needed supply of sheets, pyjamas and gowns for some time.
In the laundry rooms the Dispatch was confronted by washing from all three hospitals piled high and wide, with a frustrated laundry sorter explaining that five of the six washing machines had broken down a week before. �We have everyone demanding sheets, pyjamas and surgery gowns but it is totally impossible to work with one machine,� he said.
While acknowledging some of the problems, Health Department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said the lack of facilities and the laundry breakdown were not true.
�The pharmacy issue has been dealt with and we have recorded a 45 percent improvement in the dispensing of medication,� he said, adding that patients were sometimes referred to Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban, not because of the lack of skills but because of certain procedural matters. – By NTANDO MAKHUBU
DAILY DESPATCH 1st September 2008