The slow pace of fixing ageing infrastructure at Chris Hani Baragwanath and Charlotte Maxeke hospitals has been slammed by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).
During an oversight visit this week, NCOP chairperson Amos Masondo urged both hospitals to find “innovative ways” to improve essential infrastructure maintenance, and to address human resource challenges.
Both hospitals were found to have had financial delays and a lack of staff, preventing them from operating at full capacity.
Charlotte Maxeke hospital still gutted after fire
Masondo and NCOP permanent delegates met with management, Gauteng Health Department officials, the Gauteng Infrastructure Development Department, members of the Gauteng Legislature and other stakeholders to investigate health service delivery at the two hospitals.
A long list of troubles plaguing Charlotte Maxeke hospital as compiled, with the hospital still struggling after a fire gutted blocks 3 and 4 in April last year.
Not only was significant infrastructure damage incurred, patients had to be referred to other hospitals such as Chris Hani Baragwanath and Bertha Gxowa, which were already overburdened with patients.
The NCOP found Charlotte Maxeke hospital was still non-compliant with City of Johannesburg fire standards.
In July last year, DA shadow MEC for health, Jack Bloom, revealed in an exchange with Gauteng Health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi that the last time a fire safety audit was conducted at the hospital was on 31 October 2017.
It was found that smoke detectors were out of order, there was not enough firefighting equipment in high-risk parts of the building, and that fire suppression systems in substations were not working.
In addition, the NCOP found aside from an initial investigation of the fire-ravaged area of the hospital, no further work had been done in 10 months.
To compound the hospital’s problems, building plans are still missing.
The NCOP also said there was “slow progress in planning with no significant implementation” from the Gauteng Infrastructure Development Department.
The inspection also revealed maintenance funds used for remedial work in the Radiation Oncology section of the hospital resulted in “significant over-expenditure on [the] maintenance budget”.
In terms of funds, the NCOP found delays in the hospital signing donation agreements and handovers, and that after 10 months, “the only work being done at the hospital was work sponsored by Solidarity with no clear project plan or source of funding”.
In October last year, the Solidarity Fund and the SPIRE Fund offered R68 million in donations for the refurbishment of the Accident and Emergency Section, as well as other wards affected by the fire.
The emergency section of the hospital was due to be handed over to clinicians for services to resume at the end of February.
But questions remained as to why the hospital’s renovations were not included in the Gauteng provincial budget speech, delivered earlier this month.
Gauteng Treasury spokesperson John Sukazi said the hospital was part of the budget, however, and would be included in the “normal” infrastructure document.
The medium-term expenditure framework has allocated R36.8 billion for the provincial government infrastructure programme, which includes other hospitals in the province.
Of this amount, R3.4 billion will be allocated to the Gauteng health department.
Chris Hani Baragwanath’s staff woes
Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital has also been burdened with poor maintenance of ageing infrastructure, the NCOP found.
Human capacitation was also another major challenge revealed during the oversight visit.
Specifically, the NCOP found the current amount of hospital staff was not aligned to the workload, with current workloads and demands not proportional to available staff.
The last time staff quotients were reviewed at the hospital was in 2006, but the population has grown significantly since then.
As a result of “unbearable” workloads, the NCOP found there was a high staff turnover at the hospital, with medical personnel often leaving to work in smaller facilties with more manageable workloads.
Financial burdens at the hospital has resulted in 509 unfunded staff vacancies due to a lack of funds, and suppliers are not being paid on time.
Earlier this month, the provincial health department said it owed more than 42 000 service providers R4 billion. This meant the hospital had no bread supply for three weeks.
There were even concerns raised the hospital ran out of food this month, and that doctors and nurses had to bring good in to feed starving patients.
This was vehemently denied by the Gauteng health department, saying although there was no bread, there was other food available to feed patients.
The NCOP reported the hospital’s current vacancy rate was at 14.3%, but that this could not be addressed due to a lack of funds.
Up to 10 000 patients are admitted every month.
Gauteng NCOP leader Winnie Ngwenya reminded the CEOs of both hospitals the visits “don’t aim to witch-hunt or point fingers, but to ensure that service delivery is prioritised.”
Compiled by Nica Richards. Additional reporting by Faizel Patel and Lunga Simelane.