Hospital’s staffing crisis
Patients forced to wait outside overnight for treatment
THE shortage of doctors at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Phoenix has resulted in day patients having to camp outside the facility overnight, to ensure they are among the first in the queue the next morning.
Patients claim the backlog in providing out-patient care has been taking place for two years, leaving them with no choice but to wait outside the hospital’s front gate.
But management says the premises is being cleaned at night, and they cannot allow patients inside.
On Thursday at 8pm, a dozen patients of varying ages braved the wind to join the queue. The numbers swelled by midnight.
A notice on the gate read: “Patients, please be advised that you are not allowed to come to the hospital a day before your appointment date and wait for your file. Doors will be opened at 04H30 . . .”
Ravi Pillay, 55, who arrived at 4.30pm for his monthly check-up, said: “If I don’t queue here this early, I can forget about seeing a doctor despite having an appointment. There are a few doctors, who will see to the backlog of patients first before starting with us. The sad part is the hospital management is aware that we are waiting here but they lack empathy.”
Rajan Moodley, 59, who has had a heart bypass surgery, had been waiting since 2.30pm.
He said his health was deteriorating, and it was imperative he received treatment. “If I arrive in the morning, there will be dozens of people ahead of me.”
Elderly patients, he added, used the toilet facilities during visiting hours. “They also rest their feet indoors, but once the visiting hour is over, they must return outside or are chased out by security.”
Athmadass Mohabir, 79, who recently underwent heart bypass surgery and needed to collect his medication, was also in the queue.
Another woman, 64, had bandages on her leg. “I have varicose vein ulcers and my arthritis is troubling me. But what can I do? We are not rich to go to a private hospital, but that also does not mean we should be treated like this.”
Hospital board member, Pastor Mervyn Reddy said the benches were stacked so that the floors could be cleaned. He added the toilets were also cleaned in the evenings.
“We empathise with the patients as we are aware of the national crisis of shortage of doctors. However, we cannot allow patients to sit inside. Another concern is if patients with chronic illnesses fall ill. This will become the hospital’s responsibility.”
Minority Front councillor Jonathan Annipen said: “The conditions at the hospital are deplorable because of the indiscriminate policies of the Department of Health. They have reduced the staff by not filling the vacancies of nurses and other critical posts, which is the reason why people are forced to queue outside.
“If the department spent more money on staff, it would spend less money on litigation and law suits, which is where the largest chunk of the budget is spent at present.”
The spokesperson for the Department of Health in KZN, Ncumisa Mafunda, said outpatients could enter the hospital’s premises at 4am as their files would be issued from 5am.
The pharmacists and doctors report to duty by 7.30am.
She said the hospital serviced a large catchment area, which included Phoenix, Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu, and this led to a high demand for healthcare services and resulted in overcrowding.
A large number of people with minor ailments, added Mafunda, also went to the hospital instead of primary health care clinics.
“However, it is anticipated that overcrowding at the hospital will be alleviated by the imminent opening of the brand new Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Hospital, which is due by the middle of 2019,” she said.
To help reduce long queues and waiting times, the Department encouraged those patients who fetched their chronic medication to sign up with the Central Chronic Medicines Dispensing and Distribution (CCMDD) programme.
“This programme will enable them to receive their chronic medication from community halls, libraries, places of worship and other community amenities that are closer to their homes – and only come to the hospital once after three months,” she said.
Patients may register at their nearest health facility and choose the pick-up point that is convenient to collect the medicine from.
ABOVE: The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Phoenix.
LEFT: Patients start queueing from the night before outside the hospital.