Hospital hell: Deputy public protector finds Eastern Cape facilities in shocking state

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  • Deputy public protector finds that Livingstone hospital patients were fed "inadequate" food.
  • There's only one oxygen port at Uitenhage provincial hospital which was shared by scores of patients.
  • The overwhelmed laundry facility at Livingstone hospital was hit by rampant theft. 

Deputy public protector, advocate Kholeka Gcaleka has found that Livingstone hospital patients were fed "inadequate" food, and there was only one oxygen port at Uitenhage provincial hospital which was shared by scores of patients.

A state-of-the-art kitchen, built at Livingstone Hospital for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, was last used 10 years ago because no one was hired to work there, she told News24 after her visit. 

The discovery was one of many Gcaleka said shocked her during a visit of Nelson Mandela Bay municipality health facilities, where she went to investigate on Tuesday.

Gcaleka described the kitchen as wasteful expenditure and blamed the provincial health department for causing "leadership instability".  

READ | Eastern Cape's Covid-19 nightmare could see 9 000 'unavoidable' deaths, say experts

Gcaleka and her team of investigators are on a two-day visit in the Eastern Cape to investigate disturbing reports of crippled healthcare services at Livingstone Hospital, and other health facilities in Uitenhage, Mthatha and Qumbu.

In an interview with News24 on Tuesday evening, Gcaleka said she noted that most challenges faced by Livingstone Hospital were caused by staff shortages and management instability.

During a walkabout of the Livingstone facility and engagement with management, Gcaleka said she noted:
  • Patients were fed inadequate food;
  • A high vacancy rate for doctors and nurses;
  • Laundry services in a collapsed state;
  • Theft of linen, patient gowns and sheets;
  • Overburdened laundry service, as all hospitals in the area sent their laundry to Livingstone;
  • The provincial health department took too long to fill vacancies; and
  • Leadership instability (CEO has been acting for a longtime).

"The challenges faced by Livingstone and Uitenhage were somehow similar because Uitenhage is also hit by staff shortages. But what shocked me more was to find this kitchen that was being unused because there are no workers. It is wasteful expenditure. When I asked why they were not using the kitchen, I was told that it was for the 2010 soccer World Cup and that, for the past 10 years, they could not hire people to use the kitchen."

"I was told when the soccer tournament ended, it was never used."

At Uitenhage's Covid-19 ward, a single oxygen machine was being shared by many patients, said Gcaleka.  


"The oxygen port is exchanged among many patients and another thing, it is impossible to observe Covid-19 regulations - there is not much room to practice social distancing."

"When we met the management of Uitenhage provincial hospital, they painted a picture that everything was under control. However, when we did a walkabout with unions and staff, they completely changed the picture. At Uitenhage there is a clear gap between management and workers."

Gcaleka said a critical shortage of nurses and doctors could have dire consequences on the ability of the hospital to offer quality service. She said the hospital was characterised by frustration among employees.  

READ | Father dies of hypoxia in makeshift parking lot facility at KZN hospital

Gcaleka said the management at the Uitenhage facility agreed in a meeting to address all the challenges, especially short-term ones. 

"We appreciated the fact that, at Livingstone, there is good relationship between the management, board and unions. They all agreed that there were challenges faced by the hospital.”


She said most challenges faced by Livingstone Hospital were beyond their authority.

"Such as the filling of vacancies. The management informed me that they would send memos to the provincial department of health in Bhisho, but the department ignored the memos or take months to fill those vacant posts. Livingstone has a large vacancy rate."

Gcaleka said because Livingstone was a tertiary hospital, their laundry facility was used by all hospitals in the metro.

"This overburdening on short staff, results in clean linen and gowns not being returned on time."

The crisis at Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals has rea
The crisis at Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals has reached new lows as doctors are having to clean wards and wash bed linen, while dirt stands in hallways amid crippling staff shortages.
The Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth.

Rapport reported that patients were walking around naked at Livingstone Hospital.  

Gcaleka said the laundry workload forced hospital management to outsource laundry services to private companies, which created more issues.

"Hospital clothes get lost. The private service providers never return the full load."

"Another thing I was told was that when patients eat bread in the afternoon, they don't eat it with tea because there is no one to make it for them due to staff shortages. They eat it dry."

Gcaleka said her office would prepare a report which would be ready in a month-and-a-half with findings and recommendations.

"But we will not wait for the finalisation of the report before intervening. We will engage the provincial leadership."

"We will also engage with the chairperson of the portfolio committee on health, Speaker, Health Minister and the director-general, with the view of having them intervene on matters they have authority over while we are finalising the report."

Health department spokesperson Siyanda Manana said News24's questions about the kitchen and other matters raised by Gcaleka would require them to investigate before they could comment.

Gcaleka's team were expected to be in Mthatha and Qumbu on Wednesday. 

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