One doctor treats 120 000 patients
Nine months after Dr Siva Pillay, superintendent-general of Eastern Cape health, promised to appoint three more doctors to the understaffed Madwaleni Hospital, there is only one doctor serving 120000 patients.
The filling of vacancies was frozen when the provincial treasury treasury took over administration of the Eastern Cape health department in December 2011.
Two years ago, the hospital was served by 10 doctors.
Now, only a single Dutch woman doctor looks after the 180-bed hospital, with the help of only two clinical associates, who are less qualified than nurses.
A frustrated Pillay said yesterday he was "embarrassed" about the lack of doctors in the Eastern Cape.
"In 2009, when I left parliament, I was given an assurance that the R2.8-billion deficit of the Eastern Cape health department would be paid over three years. These promises were made verbally. [However], R3.2-billion was taken out of the health budget to repay debt from before 2009," he said.
"I couldn't make the appointments [to the frozen posts], and they've embarrassed me."
The Legal Resource Centre and advocacy group Section27 were in negotiations with the province's premier, Noxolo Kiviet, said Pillay.
The two doctors who were supposed to have started in February were now expected to join the hospital next month, he said .
In 2010, patients at Madwaleni could have Caesarian sections at any time and had access to a rural ARV programme.
Now, no Caesars are offered and it is unclear what happens to patients needing emergency help at the weekends and evenings when the only doctor is off duty.
The doctor at Madwaleni, Inge Koppelaar, has declined to comment.
Dr Karl le Roux, of the Rural Doctors' Association of South Africa, who works at nearby Zithulele hospital, said his hospital was now understaffed as people from around Madwaleni were forced to come there - 27km away - for help.