Hospital ripe for picking

04 August 2014 - 02:00 By Nashira Davids
Western Cape health MEC Theuns Botha
Western Cape health MEC Theuns Botha
Image: Aletta Gardner/EWN

Cape Town's Tygerberg Hospital - the country's second-biggest - is a "shopping centre" for crooks who have stolen vehicles, petrol, taps, pipes, ceiling boards and even a heart machine.

Workers at the hospital, which has 50 entrances , say they fear for their lives.

Nurses are accompanied by security guards on their rounds at night.

When The Times visited the academic hospital there was no access control at many of the entrances and a shortage of security personnel at the trauma unit, the busiest in Western Cape.

The Democratic Nurses' Organisation of SA said trauma wards in Cape Town and Johannesburg were particularly dangerous, with gangsters holding up staff at gunpoint to demand immediate medical assistance.

In 2009, a baby was stolen from the Tygerberg Hospital while his mother was in a coma.

Jacob Julies, a security guard at the hospital for 27 years, has had enough.

"This place is known among the thieves as 'the shopping centre'," he said.

He said he had exhausted all internal procedures in asking for heightened security, including writing to health MEC Theuns Botha, but little or nothing had changed.

Staff, speaking on condition of anonymity, said:

  • A defibrillator was stolen by an employee who advertised it for sale on Gumtree;
  • Up to five vehicles are stolen monthly;
  • Petrol and car batteries have been stolen from vehicles; and
  • Staff are robbed and attacked.

Julies said that he and colleagues wrote a Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority test in which they were given the answers.

"They made it an open-book test. They gave us the answers and you just had to write them in," he said.

About 8000 people work in the hospital precinct, which has up to 30000 visitors a day. But there are only 124 private security guards, on duty 24 hours a day.

Botha said: "A syndicate responsible for the thefts has been caught and criminal processes [are] under way."

He said the hospital was to be renovated and new security measures would be implemented once the work was completed.

The Western Cape chairman of the Democratic Nurses' Organisation, Barbara Ruiters, said substance abuse was a major factor in many of the attacks at the hospital.

"These patients attack medical staff because there is no security immediately at hand."