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Rat-infested, overburdened hospitals in Eastern Cape raise red flag — public protector

Staff at Livingstone Hospital. File photo.
Staff at Livingstone Hospital. File photo.
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

Rat infestation, a malfunctioning kitchen, rising Covid-19 cases among staff and a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) are some of the discoveries the public protector’s office made during an investigation into worsening conditions at Livingstone and other Eastern Cape hospitals.

These discoveries were made in August 2020, when deputy public protector Kholeka Gcaleka and her team visited Uitenhage, Livingstone, Mthatha and Sulenkama hospitals.

The report was released on Wednesday, detailing the investigations carried out by their office last year. One of the investigations was into the worsening conditions of Eastern Cape health facilities.

The investigation, the public protector’s office said, revealed that the administration of health at all the above hospitals did not accord with the obligations imposed by the constitution.

In Livingstone Hospital, the public protector found:

  • instability in leadership caused by undue delays in filling senior management positions including that of CEO;
  • structural discontent, lack of an organigram and severe underfunding of the hospital;
  • a lack of synergy between the hospital and the Eastern Cape provincial government and lack of support of the hospital by the provincial government;
  • overcrowding of the hospital due to lack of district hospitals in the area to treat patients with minor illnesses;
  • psychiatric patients being accommodated at the hospital causing its casualty department to deal with psychiatric patients who are potentially dangerous at times;
  • a shortage of PPE such as gumboots, gloves, body bags and thermometers;
  • a shortage of nursing and non-clinical staff, such as cleaners and porters, as a result of which the conditions at the hospital are often unhygienic;
  • a surge of Covid-19 infections among the staff, with 340 workers infected;
  • the drainage area at the hospital is problematic, worsening the rat infestation; and
  • one of the kitchens has been out of service since 2010.

The public protector also discovered that there was a shortage of water supply at some of the hospitals.

“A bath is used to store water in one hospital in the Port Elizabeth area. A bath is filled up whenever there is supply and then staff members use a small bucket to scoop some out to flush toilets and wash their hands,” the public protector’s report reads.

Emergency services staff members did not even have enough water to shower when they returned from picking up and dropping off patients at hospitals as required under Covid-19 protocols.

“Patients have to walk down the passage to wash their hands, even in their weak state of health. There are no bathrooms or showers for the nurses working at some facilities. Staff members alleged that even making a cup of tea is a mission,” said the report.

The shortage of ambulances and staff is a major problem at Eastern Cape hospitals.

As a result of staff shortages, one nurse ends up attending to up to 50 patients.

The public protector also discovered a prevalence of unhygienic conditions. “Newborn babies have died in overcrowded and understaffed wards.”


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