Dire situation at All Saints Hospital as taps remain dry

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  • All Saints Hospital in Ngcobo in the Eastern Cape has been without water for months. 
  • Healthcare workers have raised their concerns with the CEO of the hospital.
  • R57 million has been allocated to address the water problem, but details from health authorities are not forthcoming.

Water is crucial for delivering quality healthcare services, so when the taps ran dry at All Saints Hospital in Ngcobo in the Eastern Cape two months ago, patients say things took a turn for the worse.

Concerned staff members say they raised the issue with hospital management and despite Eastern Cape Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth indicating on March 15 this year that All Saints Hospital had been allocated R57 million to deal with the water challenges, the situation remains dire.

At the hospital, a stench apparently emanating from the men’s toilets, hangs in the air. Outside the toilets, healthcare user Mziwoxolo Ziqubu (64) is waiting his turn. He is wearing a mask but also holds his jacket across his nose and mouth to escape the smell. He came to the hospital to collect medicines.

No hand soap

Ziqubu says conditions at the hospital have been bad since December. “I don’t know why something isn’t being done. A healthcare facility is supposed to be spotless, but that is never the case here. It’s either you get confronted by the ‘out of order’ sign [on] the toilet doors or you are greeted by faeces piling up in the toilet. It is just not okay,” he says, shaking his head.

Other patients say they’ve grown used to there being no running water and soap. Often, they say, there are dirty or bloody sheets on the floor – something seen during Spotlight’s visit.

Buyiswa Cekiso (39), also a healthcare user,  asks how it can be that there is no hand soap in a hospital. “This while we get reminded daily that Covid-19 is still among us and that we should continue to sanitise and wash our hands regularly. Every time I’ve been coming here since the beginning of the year, I’ve always been told about this water shortage. If they can’t find a solution to the problem, they should seek assistance from organisations such as Gift of the Givers whom we often see on TV offering water assistance,” says Cekiso.

Issue raised in March

According to Eastern Cape Health Department acting communications manager Yonela Dekeda staff at the hospital had been raising their concerns about the water problems since March.

“It was during the end of March that some staff members raised concerns with the facility management regarding the water pumps that were unable to pump out water to the wards,” she says. “The facility generates its own water from [the] Xuka River which has two pumps.”

Dekeda says one of the pumps was stolen and the other one blocked by sand after the recent heavy rains in the province. She says the department will investigate the complaints at All Saints. “The facility has ten backup water tanks that service the hospital when there are water disruptions. We understand that they are currently relying on those water tanks.”

Challenges for staff

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a healthcare worker at the hospital tells Spotlight the water shortage poses a lot of challenges for the staff. According to the healthcare worker, they have raised their concerns with the CEO of the hospital.

“As you know, water plays a crucial role not only in a hospital environment but in any environment. Besides drinking and using it to take medication for patients, we have to bathe the frail patients every day. There is also linen that is supposed to be changed daily but with this issue that becomes impossible,” the healthcare worker says.

“We are doing our best for the patients under these trying conditions and we are only human and can only endure so much,” says another healthcare worker. “Some of us are used to flushing toilets in our homes but here at work, we have to put up with these inhumane conditions. Sometimes when the Jojo tanks run dry, we have to carry buckets and collect water from the taps in the community. That is an embarrassing exercise because our jobs are to treat patients and not do housekeeping. We risk getting sick here.”

The healthcare worker says this is happening while the hospital is already understaffed. “It’s as if they are not taking us seriously and just expect us to work under these appalling conditions.”

Situation receiving ‘necessary attention’

According to Medupi Simasiku, spokesperson for the Office for Health Standards Compliance (OHSC) they are aware of the complaints about All Saints Hospital. “[We] received [complaints] via the OHSC Call Centre and Assessment and they are receiving the necessary attention,” says Simasiku.

“The OHSC receives, assesses, and where necessary – investigates complaints about poor healthcare lodged by health service users, their families, and other members of the public, including health workers and professionals. The Office works together with the Health Ombud and most complaints can be resolved by engagement with the complainant and the relevant health establishment.” 

On March 15 this year, Meth indicated that a total of R110 million had been allocated over the MTEF for the upgrade of Water and Wastewater Treatment Plants at hospitals in the province. R57 million of this is allocated to All Saints Hospital.

Unanswered calls

Spotlight has however been unable to get any details from health authorities on how and when the water issues at All Saints will be addressed.

In the statement on March 15, Meth said she met with the trade unions to discuss the ongoing challenges facing public healthcare facilities in the province. Meth said issues discussed included infrastructure problems, staff shortages, emergency medical services, and general maintenance among others.

“Infrastructure needs for all the facilities that had been affected will be considered with available funding envelopes as the department focuses on planned maintenance of our facilities. Some facilities were not originally designed for the comprehensive services currently provided at those facilities and thus upgrades and refurbishments are under construction,” Meth said.

Spotlight tried to get a response from the hospital CEO but calls went unanswered.

*This article was published by Spotlight– health journalism in the public interest.

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