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SOME hospitals in Limpopo have been hit by food shortages, with patients now relying on relatives for daily supplies because of the apparent failure by the government to pay service providers.
The hardest hit hospitals, where food has run out, are Jane Furse and St Rita's in Sekhukhune, Bela Bela, Donald Fraser outside Thohoyandou, and Groblersdal.
The crisis surfaced on Tuesday when patients' relatives descended on various hospitals to give them food. Many other hospitals are having difficulty feeding patients their required daily rations.
Hospital staff fear for patients whose relatives are poor and cannot provide food.
A nurse at Donald Fraser Hospital, who did not want to be named, said: "There has to be an urgent intervention, otherwise we might start talking about patients - like the diabetics - dying because they could not respond to medication on empty stomachs".
Maria Sikhwari, whose son was admitted to Donald Fraser three weeks ago, said he complained of hunger on Tuesday.
"I found out from other visitors they had heard rumours that we now have to bring food for the patients. This is very painful and it's going to be an extra burden on me because I also struggle to get enough food at home."
A prominent ANC member attending the party's provincial lekgotla at an upmarket resort in Bela Bela told Sowetan the situation was "bad" at the local hospital.
He said patients were being fed dry rice and he gave some of them apples.
Provincial health spokesman Joe Maila confirmed that food supplies were low but "we don't know what the problem is".
"We are doing all we can to ensure supplies are back to normal. Sometimes people exaggerate the situation and we never called on people to bring food to the patients."
Several providers, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being blacklisted, confirmed they had not been paid.
"We cannot continue to provide services to the government when we don't have any guarantee we will be paid. We understand the situation but we are also business-people and have workers to pay and creditors breathing on our necks," one service provider said.
The Limpopo government's serious cash flow problems led to cabinet placing the health department under national administration.
A week ago Premier Cassel Mathale blamed the national government for the failure to pay for services.