Your health is in your hands

2015-02-24 15:00

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Every month City Press fields scores of complaints from readers about the condition of public health facilities, bad experiences with staff, filthy bathrooms and empty pharmacies.

These echo the results of a 2011 department of health audit of state facilities that we published exclusively last year. Now City Press has teamed up with not-for-profit organisation Code for SA and created a platform that allows you to rate your experiences at public health facilities.

It also helps you find the nearest public hospital or clinic and shows its department of health national health insurance (NHI) readiness rating in five categories. A sixth category, staff and patient safety/security, will be added soon. Head to and try it out for yourself.

Once you’ve found the facility you’re looking for, you can rate your experience. Ratings are sent to City Press so we can follow up on serial offenders and share your stories. Here, Zinhle Mapumulo explores some of our most recent complaints

The Department of Health’s audit rated state facilities based on six categories. These were:

1 Drug stock-outs

2 Safety and security

3 Infection prevention, control

4 Waiting times

5 Staff attitude

6 Cleanliness


This year Shamaine Rademeyer moved her teenager from a private to a public school. She simply couldn’t afford the monthly R2?300 school fees in addition to her mother’s R6?000 chronic medication bill.

Rademeyer’s mother, Shamrock, is a pensioner and does not have medical aid. The 65-year-old suffers from diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, and for the past decade has gone to the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg for a monthly checkup and to collect her cocktail of drugs. For the past six months, she’s returned empty-handed or without some of her medication. The hospital’s pharmacy continuously runs out of stock.

Shamrock is lucky. Her daughter can afford to pay for her monthly medication.

“This is totally unacceptable. People go to state facilities because they cannot afford to pay for private healthcare,” Shamaine says.

Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu said the department was working to fix the situation. She blames poor management in the pharmacies and late deliveries by suppliers.


Dr Nadia Karim was jotting down notes when someone grabbed the pen from her hand. Astonished, she turned and saw the patient she’d just treated – whose hands and feet had been bound to the bed – standing next to her, smiling.

Then he attacked.

“Just then he grabbed my hair and bashed my head against the desk. I stood up and he started punching me with his fists, while stabbing me with my pen repeatedly,” she recalls.

The room, in the medical section of casualty, was laid out in such a way that she couldn’t escape.

“He continued hitting and stabbing me, and I used my arms to protect my neck and eyes from being stabbed,” she adds.

Karim screamed for help, but nobody came.

“The security company on duty that day heard my screams, but [later] admitted to assuming that the screams were that of a psych patient and, therefore, ignored them,” she says.

That was on a Sunday morning in September 2010.

The conversation with Karim is taking place over the phone, as she is now in Ireland. She emigrated after the attack.

Her voice still trembles when she talks about what the smiling man did to her.

Karim’s story is not unique.

In June 2011, Dr Senzosenkosi Mkhize was stabbed to death by a mentally ill patient in Mpumalanga’s Middelburg Hospital.

A year later, another doctor and four patients were stabbed by a patient at Gauteng’s Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.

There have also been several cases of doctors and nurses who have been mugged or raped on hospital premises.


If inspectors from the Office of Health Standards Compliance made a surprise visit to Johannesburg’s Helen Joseph Hospital, they’d probably be as disgusted as 34-year-old Senamile Mlambo was this week.

The Bosmont resident was appalled by the state of the toilets in the medical outpatients’ department.

“The toilets stink like hell. Lights do not work and there are no taps to wash our hands after using the toilet.

“Imagine the doctor sending you to pass urine and coming back to him or her to be examined. Where does one wash one’s hands?”

“I do understand that there are hundreds of people who come and go to the toilets for various reasons, but it should be the hospital’s priority to keep them clean.

“There are all sorts of germs in the toilets. The least that the hospital can do is to ensure that toilets are flushable, clean and hand sanitisers are available for patients,” she told City Press.

Four years ago, Helen Joseph was one of the few hospitals in Gauteng that complied on infection prevention and control during the NHI audit.

It scored 93% then.

MEC Mahlangu said there was “absolutely no excuse for toilets or any area of a hospital to be dirty”.

“People come to the hospital suffering from different illnesses, some infectious. To prevent cross-infection, we have to ensure that simple things like hand sanitisers are available,” she said.


If you have to go to Joburg’s South Rand Hospital, a regular patient explains, you must be prepared to wait.

“You have to condition your mind and your body that you will spend the whole day moving from one bench to the other,” he said. He wouldn’t give his name because he was worried about being kept waiting for longer.

South Rand in Rosettenville recorded the longest waiting times for Gauteng during the 2011 NHI audit.

The provincial department of health decided to pilot an electronic filing system that would reduce waiting times for a patient file from an hour to less than 10 minutes.

Patients are still waiting. The system hasn’t been introduced, and March 31 – the financial year-end and deadline set by Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu – is fast approaching.

During a visit to the hospital this week, City Press found long queues across departments.

Ntombi Duma and her sister Mbali arrived at South Rand around 7am. By just after 10am, they had a patient file – but there was still no sign of a nurse or a doctor.

“It took us more than an hour to get a file. We have been sitting here for two hours and the way things are going, we should be here until midday,” Ntombi said.


Sometimes, Laiya Mabitwa hears her son Vincent speaking, but when she turns around, there’s nobody in the room.

Last week security guards at Gauteng’s Lenasia South Clinic allegedly turned Vincent’s father, Steven Motsumi, away, saying the doctors had left and nurses had instructed them that only pregnant women should be let in. By the time Motsumi and his five-year-old son got to a private clinic, the little boy, who had hit his head on a sharp object, was dead.

Just a week earlier, Letty Sebitso’s baby daughter, Queen Elizabeth, died in her arms outside the same clinic. Security guards had kept her outside, saying all of the 24-hour facility’s doctors had left for the day.

The department’s 2011 audit examined staff attitudes and these were almost universally abysmal. In fact, auditors found that some people would rather die at home than deal with rude nurses or distracted doctors.

Mabitwa said she was still too traumatised and angry to talk about her son’s death.

“I miss my son so much. I don’t think anything will ever take away the pain and the guilt I feel. I feel like I failed him somehow because I was not there when he was taken to the clinic. I would have begged the security guards to let us in. Maybe they would have had mercy and opened the gates for us,” she says.

MEC Mahlangu visited the clinic this week to speak to staff and patients. She vowed that the security guards who had turned people away would not be on the department’s payroll for much longer.


Polokwane’s Zebediela Hospital scored just 7% for cleanliness in the 2011 audit. When City Press visited just after getting the full audit through a Promotion of Access to Information Act application, its score was quickly explained.

Pieces of a broken toilet cistern and a flushing mechanism were scattered ¬behind a seat. Water leaked freely, a blanket on the floor the only barrier between the deluge and the passage. Patients said if they knew they had to go to Zebediela, they used the toilet at home first.

City Press this week retraced its steps and found a few positive changes.

The men’s bathrooms in the outpatient department looked neat and smelt fresh – a vast improvement. But take one or two more steps, and you put your foot straight into a puddle of water that’s flowing from one of the flooded toilets – it’s the same one that was leaking last year.

In the passage there’s a single blanket, dumped outside a door; two dirty mattresses and a set of broken beds.

A man who’d just visited a relative at Zebediela said it didn’t look like a hospital.

“Hospitals are known for shiny floors. Not here, where it feels like you are entering a warehouse upon entering a ward.

“Nothing has changed here. Many homes look healthier and cleaner than this hospital, hence some patients would rather be at home,” he said

Outside, some work was under way. Staff from the community works programme were giving the knee-length grass a rough cut.

Last year Limpopo health department spokesperson Macks Lesufi dismissed the leaking toilet as an “isolated incident”.

He then said the department was assessing Zebediela and coming up with “correctional measures”. Lesufi couldn’t be reached for comment this week.– Poloko Tau

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