MEC finds a 'war zone' in hospital

A packed casualty ward, a malfunctioning electronic patient file system, absent nurses and a doctor who appeared drunk.

These were the scenes that greeted Gauteng Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa on her impromptu visit to one of the province's worst hospitals yesterday.

Ramokgopa described the Tembisa Hospital's casualty ward as a war zone after she witnessed the problems that staff at this Ekurhuleni facility go through daily.

In 2014 the hospital was Gauteng's most dangerous facility with 71 Serious Adverse Events (SAE) - events that result in unintended harm to a patient by an act rather than by the underlying disease or condition of the patient.

By 7am yesterday patients were in queues up in the passages, some on wheelchairs.

Many had exposed bleeding wounds to their heads while others were reeling in pain as nurses stitched their wounds.

"It's like this every month-end. Many of these patients were involved in alcohol-influenced assaults. We can barely cope," said assistant manager Mpho Molefe.

As Ramakgopa and the hospital's nursing managers made their way to the adjacent building, they spotted a doctor who appeared to be staggering to his car. Ramokgopa called out to him and he looked hesitant.

Slurring, the doctor said he was extremely tired from the night shift. Ramokgopa pulled him away for a private chat.

"He is not drunk. He is always like this," said one nurse.

Ramokgopa later told the managers to pay special attention to the doctor. "I want him to be monitored daily and even test him for alcohol if needs be. I've never seen a tired person looking like that," she said.

In the labour ward, the MEC was shocked to learn that the electronic patient file system was down. The on-call IT manager was at home in Soshanguve, Tshwane, and could not immediately assist. Used to retrieve patients' files or register new patients before they see a doctor, the system crashed several times during the MEC's tour.

Clerk Pertunia Pampa said when the system is down she is unable to access patients' medical history.

In the same ward three nurses had gone AWOL, with one citing domestic problems while the other two failed to answer their cellphones. Their absence left four nurses tending 15 beds in a ward where 37 deliveries were conducted the previous day. The hospital delivers about 50 babies daily.

"We work with a team of seven nurses per shift. Ideally we need 12 to work efficiently. Currently one nurse manages five beds at a time. Today you are lucky it's quiet," Molefe said.

The ward has bed shortages and new mothers have to sit on hard chairs immediately after giving birth to make bed space for those in labour.

Ramokgopa said overcrowding, alcoholism, absenteeism and IT mismanagement were concerning. "There is a need to overhaul the management of health system, one of those areas is digitalisation. We need to change mindsets because the system is there to reduce waiting time and improve the quality of care," she said.

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