'Hospital where people go to die'
Overcrowded facility dogged by claims of corruption, neglect
11 November 2018 - 00:00
When it opened its doors to the public six years ago, Khayelitsha District Hospital was touted as a state-of-the-art facility more beautiful than some private hospitals. It was the first hospital to be built in the Western Cape in 40 years, and dedicated to Cape Town's largest township, the fastest-growing in SA.
Now the 300-bed hospital is overcrowded and dogged by staff shortages and allegations of mismanagement and corruption.
Twenty employees are believed to have resigned last month.
Staffing inadequacies are said to have resulted in deteriorating care and worsening mortality rates.
The Western Cape department of health confirmed that the hospital was overburdened with high patient numbers, at times operating at 130% bed occupancy.
"The pressure experienced within the area is fuelled by alcohol and substance abuse and the rapid escalating quadruple burden of disease," said spokesperson Mark van der Heever.
He said the facility had a "high staff turnover, due to contract expiry and resignations".
This week the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), community members and former employees of the hospital told parliament's select committee on petitions and executive undertakings about their frustrations.
Dr Moses Witbooi of Nehawu said it had become difficult for union representatives to do their work due to multiple grievances, mainly about victimisation.
When the Sunday Times visited the hospital, its trauma unit was overflowing, with some patients slouching on the floor and in chairs.
Some have had such negative experiences that they call it the "hospital where people go to die" - the grim tag once applied to the now-defunct GF Jooste Hospital.
A patient who asked to be identified only as Mavis said it had become the norm for patients to sleep on the floor.
"We don't have much choice … it is the hospital closest to us. The service is so bad that some people die while waiting for a consultation. It has become the norm for people to die like this," she said.
Staff spoke of exhaustion, saying that they were burnt out due to the heavy workload.
"We are simply not coping … the workload is so enormous and with so many frozen posts we can hardly keep up," said one staff member, who asked not to be named.
"Many of us are fearful to even raise the issues for fear of being targeted. The way the hospital is run is like a mafia club. If you speak up you are viewed as a troublemaker and must be disciplined."
It was alleged that the hospital is a fire death trap. The committee heard that despite findings almost a year ago that declared that parts of the building were not compliant with fire and safety standards, nothing had been done to remedy this.
A city fire report stated that one section's emergency evacuation route was ineffective, while the escape door was permanently locked - making evacuation impossible in an emergency. The panic push bar in the trauma unit was also broken.
Van der Heever said the areas of concern highlighted in the report had been fixed.
Former staff member Thandeka Konile-Mdekazi told the committee she had been fired in December without a disciplinary hearing after being accused of being rude to a colleague.
To the shock of MPs, she claimed that a doctor who allegedly raped a nurse after sedating her had only been suspended for three months after a hospital investigation found it was "consensual sex".
Former human resources manager Abduragmaan Ernstzen, who is appealing his dismissal, said he fell out of favour with management when he queried irregularities such as the manipulation of performance reports, hiring of unqualified staff and nepotism.
"I became uncomfortable with some of the decisions and I started to ask questions," he said, adding that he was then victimised.
Cape Metro Health Forum chair Damaris Kiewiets said the hospital's problems showed it was a "rushed political project".
She said: "The fact is that it is too small to serve such a big community. The DA government rushed it to comply with their election promises."
Van der Heever said: "We are putting effort into improving services and the quality of care." This included reducing waiting times and improving patient referrals...