upgrades at hospitals stall

MPUMALANGA health MEC Dikeledi Mahlangu has expressed concern about the "snail's pace of hospital upgrades".

She decried the little progress that has been made towards the completion of the province's three biggest hospitals.

The slow pace has also created doubts whether Rob Ferreira and Themba hospitals in Nelspruit and KaBokweni, respectively, will be ready in time for next year's soccer World Cup.

The hospitals, with Ermelo Hospital, have been under reconstruction since 2004 - and were supposed to have been completed three years ago.

But they are all way behind schedule.

"We are concerned about the slow pace of construction of the hospitals, which were supposed to have been completed already," Mahlangu said.

"But we are grateful that Premier David Mabuza has already taken it on himself to ensure the speedy completion of these projects," she said.

The reconstruction programme is designed to modernise the delivery of healthcare services and optimise management systems, procedures and structures. The other benefit of the face-lifts is to provide new buildings with low maintenance costs.

Mahlangu said as a result of the delays they have prioritised the building of a new community health centre in Nelspruit that will operate 24 hours a day to relieve the overburdened Rob Ferreira Hospital.

She also expressed concern that Mpumalanga, being mainly a rural province, found it difficult to attract and retain suitably qualified and experienced specialists.

She attributed the rapid turnover of medical staff to the lack of a university in the province.

"A case in point is that we currently have a huge backlog of patients in need of orthopaedic surgery because of a shortage of orthopaedic surgeons in the province.

"Rob Ferreira has only one full-time orthopaedic surgeon, while Witbank has two - with more than 100 patients waiting for surgery. We cannot even transfer them to private hospitals due to limited funding," Mahlangu said.

Provincial health department spokesperson Mpho Gabashane said the reason for the delay was partly a withdrawal of construction companies owing to non-performance and subsequent re-tendering of the projects.