Just ageing, not failing

2015-03-11 00:00

STUNG by recent criticism from the Health MEC, Northdale Hospital has hit back, citing ageing infrastructure, a lack of resources and inadequate ventilation among reasons for service delivery ­failures.

On Friday, MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo named and shamed hospitals he felt were not performing to standard. Among those he singled out was Pietermaritzburg’s Northdale Hospital.

The Witness was taken on a tour of the state facility with the chairperson of the board, Rachel Soobiah, who painted a grim picture of the conditions the staff have to work in.

A long queue at the Help Desk stretches to you as you enter the hospital.

Crying babies, loud coughs and the slamming of doors as people walk in and out of different departments seeking help, make up the common sights and sounds.

Having served as the chairperson for two years, Soobiah said she understood the hospital’s challenges well.

“And I have nothing to hide,” she said.

“We are a district hospital, but our ­patient numbers are high. We are functioning like a regional hospital.

“The hospital was built 40 years ago, and it is still in the same condition as when it was built. Nothing has been done to it apart from maintenance,” she said.

In the casualty section, there are on average 15 to 20 patients — who have been admitted from the previous night — waiting for beds.

“So when we tell patients we do not have beds, we really don’t have beds; we are not lying to them. We have three stretchers and the board bought two recliner chairs to help with the burden.

“Nurses have to do everything that is done in a ward in the casualty section. They bath and feed patients, give them medication and allow visitors in casualty. As you can see, it’s crowded,” she said.

In the orthopaedic ward, two doctors share a cubicle, simultaneously conducting consultations with different patients in the same space.

“A doctor can’t see a patient in a wheelchair because they won’t fit. The doctor must ask his colleague to leave the room so that he can attend to the disabled patient.”

Privacy is a luxury in the ward, she said. “There is no doctor-patient confidentiality here because two doctors are sharing the space.”

Soobiah said the hospital was severely under-staffed. “There are wards full of patients waiting for theatre, because we need to attend to trauma patients first. This causes a huge backlog. Sometimes there is a backlog in the trauma unit because there are so many patients to attend to.

“There is also poor ventilation in the hospital and that means that infection control is not optimal,” she said.

Soobiah said waiting times in the pharmacy department had been reduced from four to five hours to one or two hours.

“The hospital caters to 31 clinics and eight old-age homes, and we also have a shortage of medicines, but that is a provincial problem.”

In the maternity ward, the subject of several Witness reports, there are only 11 labour beds. “There is a shortage of beds, particularly when patients have to be taken to theatre. These things are beyond the nurses’ control,” she said.

Addressing staff attitudes in the ward, Soobiah said nurses sometimes raise their voices because they are frustrated with patients. “When the patient is in pain and the nurse is telling her to keep her legs open, but she keeps closing them, it makes things difficult for the nurse because she wants to deliver a healthy baby.”

Soobiah said, however, that she was horrified by reports of women in labour being treated badly by nurses, and of the deaths of newborns. She said she wanted the incidents thoroughly investigated and action to be taken against guilty nurses.

Soobiah said the board met with the hospital management every second month and raised these issues.

“The CEO, Francis du Preez, has been at the helm for three years and she has brought about some positive changes in the hospital. But there is room for improvement,” said Soobiah.

“I know that Mrs du Preez raised the shortage of nurses and doctors with the Health Department last year, but the department has done nothing about it,” she said.

• amanda.khoza@witness.co.za

[letter author]

[letter author location]


Hospital by

the numbers

Beds: 420

Doctors: 64

Professional nurses: 207

Enrolled nurses: 184

Student nurses: 72

Medical Outpatients


310 patients per day

Antiretroviral Clinic:

210 to 220 patients per day


about 130 patients per day

Surgical Outpatients


40 to 45 patients per day

Gynaecology: 40 to 50

patients per day

Casualty: 150 to 160

patients per day

Babies born per day:

15 to 18

Babies born per month: about 600

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