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Shortage of clean linen result in surgery backlog in Gauteng hospitals

Concern raised about the impact on infection control

Gauteng hospitals are battling with clean linen due to problems with contracted laundry service providers, delaying surgical operations.
Gauteng hospitals are battling with clean linen due to problems with contracted laundry service providers, delaying surgical operations.
Image: Luvuyo Mehlwana/Spotlight

Some Gauteng hospitals have had to cancel surgical operations due to a lack of clean linen, health MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko revealed on Wednesday. 

In a response to Jack Bloom, member of the legislature, Nkomo-Ralehoko said 23 out of 34 Gauteng public hospitals had experienced clean linen shortages since January last year, disrupting surgery and increasing the risk of infection for patients in wards. 

"Helen Joseph Hospital was particularly hard hit, with shortages of scrubs, gowns, drapes, sheets, pyjamas and nightdresses, towels, blankets and pillow cases. These shortages occurred multiple times for a total period of 42 days and caused 81 operations to be cancelled.

"Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital had various shortages of clean linen, including draw sheets, blankets and pyjamas. Theatre operations were hampered, and nine operations were cancelled. 

"At Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital there were intermittent shortages of theatre gloves and towels, sheets, blankets and gowns for 12 weeks," said Nkomo-Ralehoko.

The sporadic linen shortages at the George Mukhari Hospital caused about 32 operations to be cancelled, and they sometimes had to borrow linen from other hospitals.

"Many hospitals have linen shortages because of production problems at the Dunswart and Masakhane provincial laundries, which they are obliged to use. These include the Tembisa, Pholosong, George Mukhari, Kalafong, Sebokeng, Tambo Memorial and Far East Rand hospitals.

"The Mamelodi Hospital has given up on the Masakhane laundry and only uses private laundry [services]. Other hospitals also use private laundries, but some claim this is forbidden by the Gauteng health department," said Nkomo-Ralehoko. 

Concern was expressed by hospitals about the impact on infection control. Kopanong Hospital, for instance, notes that relatives bring in blankets for patients. 

It is unclear why hospitals are largely forced to use the poorly managed and expensive provincial laundry services where machinery constantly breaks down, Nkomo-Ralehoko said.

"The continued operation of these laundries should be reviewed as laundry shortages are a constant hassle in public hospitals. Hospital managers should be free to make the most cost-efficient arrangements with reliable suppliers so that optimal patient care is provided," she said. 



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