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Charlotte Maxeke Hospital operating at 75-80% capacity, says Joe Phaahla

'Only patient transfers for now,' say health bosses after CT scanner damage

Gill Gifford Senior journalist
Acting MEC for infrastructure development Jacob Mamabolo addresses the media at the official reopening of Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital's accident and emergency unit.
Acting MEC for infrastructure development Jacob Mamabolo addresses the media at the official reopening of Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital's accident and emergency unit.
Image: Gill Gifford

Claims that Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital is still closed and non-functional are incorrect as the facility is partially open and “functioning at between 75% and 80% capacity”.

Health minister Joe Phaahla, addressing a media briefing at the official opening of the hospital’s accident and emergency unit, said the hospital was functioning and constantly improving.

The unit was scheduled to be open by the end of April, and the first patients were taken in on May 4. This, he said, was a group of 15 mental health patients brought from Helen Joseph Hospital on a transfer aimed at alleviating the strain the sister hospital has been under, having to carry a hugely increased patient burden resulting from the closure of Charlotte Maxeke after a devastating fire in April last year.

“The accident and emergency unit is not accepting walk-ins or ambulances, only pre-arranged transfers of patients from other centres. These will be stabilised patients for clinical care,” Phaahla said.

This is because the unit — like the hospital — is being reopened in sections.

“We are working on reducing the pressure at sister facilities. The process has unfortunately been delayed because the CT scanner’s processing unit and the cables to it were stolen and vandalised,” the minister said, referring to the destruction of the brand-new equipment shortly after it was installed.

Only once contractors had finished the repairs could the rest of the unit be reopened.

“The contractor is on site busy with recalibrations. Some of the imported parts arrived this morning. Once the machine is functioning, the team will be able to accommodate ambulances and emergency cases.”

A CT scanner is needed in trauma and emergency cases as it is used to diagnose all manner of injuries and complications ranging from strokes to stabbings and gunshot wounds.

“The end of the week is our target date for the full functioning of the scanner,” Phaahla said.

Outside partners such as the Solidarity and Aspire Funds and Gift of the Givers had fixed and funded the accident and emergency unit, which has so far cost R68m.

According to Phaahla, the detailed reopening plan, with stipulated milestones, would see the opening of the gynaecology and maternity section at the end of March next year, paediatrics reopening in July 2023, surgery in October and internal medicine in November 2023. The entire hospital would be up to 100% capacity by December next year.

Hospital CEO Gladys Bogoshi said the latest technology had been sought and experts engaged in the restoration process. The hospital was no longer a walk-right-through facility and had been sectioned off so that areas could be compartmentalised in cases of emergency. In terms of safety, security gates at wards had been done away with and “replaced by warm body security or CCTV cameras”.

The hospital staff complement was set at 5,500, with 653 vacancies, or 11%, with “a lot of new people starting at the end of this month”.

She said fire-retardant materials had been used in the rebuilding process, fire doors had been installed and the city had given them the thumbs-up in terms of occupational health and safety compliance.

When quizzed on what action had been taken to address delays caused by security failures, damaged equipment and deadlines that had been missed and delayed, and the public’s loss of confidence in the promised restoration of the hospital, Phaahla insisted that though there had been “delays and some gaps that need closing”, he felt that all major concerns had been addressed.

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