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Poor security and water shortages undermining Mpumalanga healthcare

According to figures presented by the Mpumalanga department of health last year in the provincial legislature, there were 54 cases of security-related matters reported at Mpumalanga’s public health facilities over the past two financial years. File image.
According to figures presented by the Mpumalanga department of health last year in the provincial legislature, there were 54 cases of security-related matters reported at Mpumalanga’s public health facilities over the past two financial years. File image.
Image: Alon Skuy

Healthcare workers being robbed and assaulted. Crippling water shortages leaving family and friends no choice but to bring their hospitalised loved ones the water they need for washing in buckets. Persistent problems with the distribution of medicines leading to shortages at facilities.

These are issues that have emerged from reports on the public healthcare system in Mpumalanga.

The official reports, such as an analysis of the third quarter performance report of the Mpumalanga department of health in the 2021/2022 financial year and reports by the public protector, make for grim reading, as do reports from professional organisations such as the SA Medical Association (Sama), unions and political parties in the province.

More than 54 safety and security incidents

The DA in the province has flagged security and safety at public health facilities as a big concern. According to the party’s provincial health spokesperson Jane Sithole, the department last year revealed that 54 security-related incidents were reported at Mpumalanga’s public health facilities over the past two financial years.

The department reported some of these incidents in its quarterly report. For example, in February this year, a woman doctor was hijacked at gunpoint and was nearly raped after completing her shift at Mapulaneng Hospital in Bushbuckridge.

In October last year, health workers and patients at Empumelelweni Community Healthcare Centre were robbed of their personal belongings at gun and knifepoint.

Last year, a person employed by the department pretended to be a doctor and followed a pregnant patient into the bathroom at eMbhuleni Hospital, where he allegedly raped her.

The department states in the quarterly performance report that it suspended security guards from a private security company who were captured on video physically assaulting and harassing a Shongwe Hospital patient who suffers from mental illness.

Sama concerned

Sama said it was concerned about attacks on healthcare workers at public hospitals.

“Sama is concerned that doctors working in public sector hospitals are living and working in constant fear and feel unsafe within their working environments. Sama has on many occasions raised concerns regarding safety at public hospitals.”

Both Sama and the DA have called on the provincial government to beef up security in the province’s health facilities.

Department responds

Department spokesperson Dumisani Malamule told Spotlight security is not the purview of the department, but it is looking into the matter of health worker safety and plans to install CCTV cameras at health facilities where there are none.

“We must note that the issues of security at our health facilities lies with the department of community safety and transport management,” said Malamule.

Quality of care compromised

In October last year, the public protector released findings after investigations into public hospitals in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

“We also looked into other conditions at the facilities which included challenges of infrastructure, the availability of equipment and medical supplies, as well as matters related to human resources,” the public protector’s office said.

During the visit to Mpumalanga’s Themba Hospital in Kabokweni, the public protector’s team found staff shortages, lack of adequate space, a crumbling maternity ward, shortage of medical equipment, insufficient supply of PPE and poor infrastructure.

It was found that the maternity ward is in a deplorable state and patients’ rights are being violated. It was also found that there is not enough space as there are only two delivery beds, no privacy, no decent waiting area and that there is a shortage of staff even though the hospital delivers 15 to 18 babies a day.

In its feedback to the public protector, the department said there are plans to build a new maternity wing at Themba Hospital and bring in mobile units.

The department said it would also update staff organigrams and fill vacancies during the new financial year because a moratorium on jobs had been lifted.

SAHRC investigation

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is investigating hospitals in Mpumalanga after complaints about alleged lack of medical services and water shortages.

The hospitals under investigation included the Standerton Hospital in Standerton and Bernice Samuel Hospital in Delmas, while Mapulaneng Hospital was being probed for alleged water shortages.

When asked about water shortages, Malamule told Spotlight water provision was the responsibility of the municipality.

At the time of writing, the SAHRC had not responded to an enquiry from Spotlight on the status of their investigations.

Delays at medical depot

Due to problems at the medical depot, many rural clinics and district hospitals struggle to get medicine to patients on time, says the DA’s Trudie Grove-Morgan. Patients face shortages of chronic medication and basic medicines such as Panado at Themba Hospital.

Malamule says they have started to improve the system through appointing a new service provider. He also notes that the Covid-19 pandemic affected medicine supplies.

According to the provincial secretary of Nehawu in Mpumalanga, Welcome Mnisi, the pharmaceutical tender should be insourced.

“It is important that services such as the medical depot should be insourced to provide an adequate provision of health services. On the issue of service delivery, credible and competent managers at health facilities should be employed because they are responsible for running these centres,” Mnisi says.

Mpumalanga EFF chair Collen Sedibe told Spotlight the issue of medicine shortages has been there for a while and they have raised it with the department. The Hawks are now investigating the pharmaceutical tender after the EFF laid a complaint over what it believes was the irregular awarding of this tender.

Mnisi also believes security services must be insourced.

“Insourcing is the only solution to the security challenges because the government will then be better held accountable. If there is a breach of security, the health department passes the buck to the appointed service provider. If security is insourced, this will ensure that workers are not exploited,” says Mnisi.

Water shortages

The EFF says it was disheartening to watch patients’ family members having to carry 20-litre buckets so their loved ones can wash at Mapulaneng Hospital.

“This was terrible for us to witness. It is a gross violation of human rights. Water shortages at a health facility during a pandemic is a recipe for disaster. Water is important for infection control practises to be implemented,” says Sedibe.

When asked about water provision, specifically at Mapulaneng Hospital, Malamule said water supply is a matter that falls under the responsibility of the municipality. He says they are working with local authorities to address the water shortages as it a common occurrence in the area.

Sedibe says there have also been issues with laundry services at some hospitals. “In one incident [earlier this year], the laundry services at three hospitals were not working. They had to rely on the laundry at Rob Ferreira Hospital. You can imagine a situation where patients have to use dirty linen repeatedly and compromising hygiene.”

Malamule said it was “quite normal for other hospitals to assist each other when the need arises”. It was not unusual for a backlog to occur if one system was under pressure.

This article was first published by Spotlight.

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