Deputy public protector’s visit lays bare failings at Bara

Deputy public protector Kholeka Gcaleka during her visit to Barangwanath Hospital in Soweto on Wednesday.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi / Sunday Times

A visit by deputy public protector Kholeka Gcaleka to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto on Wednesday afternoon exposed alleged poor working conditions at the facility.

Although she was assured by management earlier in the day that they had sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers, Gcaleka’s interaction with staff painted a different picture.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) representative at the hospital Thembi Ntlane told Gcaleka how staff had to beg line managers for PPE.

“The PPE is there, but it doesn’t come down to workers who need it to protect themselves while busy with their duties. Although they claim to have sufficient PPE, there’s a breakdown somewhere because it never reaches the intended people who need it,” she said.

Ntlane, who spoke to Gcaleka about their challenges on behalf of all workers, also pointed out a lack of support for staff members who test positive for the virus, saying there was no socio-psychological support for them.

Ntlane added that there was discrimination in testing workers suspected to have the virus.

“Some of the workers have to spend their own money to go for tests. There’s no support and it’s like they are left to be on their own,” she said.

Patients at the hospital also took the opportunity to voice their frustration at the poor service they said they receive at the hospital. Long waiting times were the top complaint from patients, who said they wait for more than three hours to just open patient files.

Maria Nkosi, who was at the hospital to collect her chronic medication, told Gcaleka that they sometimes return home without having done everything they were supposed to do because of the long wait.

“We wait close to four hours to get our files. From there you need to go see a doctor for a consultation, where it will be another four hours’ wait, at least. By the time you are supposed to go to the pharmacy … you find they have cut the line and must make another trip the following day,” she said.

Nkosi also told Gcaleka that it was difficult to find certain places and departments at the facility because there was no proper signage.

Gcaleka said she found that there was not enough staff at the hospital to serve patients, and said this is something that would need to be addressed urgently.

In the trauma unit – where staff said they had seen a decrease in cases when the sale of alcohol was banned – Gcaleka was not impressed to find one patient without a mask on. The patient had been admitted almost 24 hours earlier.

“The workers are busy attending to the patient who doesn’t have a mask on. Although I was told they have enough PPE for patients and staff, I wonder why this patient was not provided a mask,” she said.

At the hospital kitchen, where meals are prepared for patients, Gcaleka was met with staff sharing a single tap. The other taps apparently broke more than a month ago and are still awaiting repairs.

“This is quite concerning because there is no social distancing in this kitchen because they have to use one tap,” she said.

Deputy public protector Kholeka Gcaleka (in brown jacket) and Dr Steve Mankupane (in green) interact with the public at Barangwanath Hospital on Wednesday.

Deputy public protector Kholeka Gcaleka (in brown jacket) and Dr Steve Mankupane (in green) interact with the public at Barangwanath Hospital on Wednesday.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi / Sunday Times

Acting hospital CEO Dr Steve Mankupane assured Gcaleka that the matter would be attended to urgently.

On staff shortages, Mankupane said they had challenges, especially with attracting young doctors. He attributed this mostly to the outbreak of Covid-19.

“Some of the people we had appointed declined our offers at the last minute. I think it had to do with the deaths they were seeing among health professionals in the public health sector,” he said.

On infections among staff, Mankupane said it would be disingenuous to conclude that all the infections among staff were from patients. He said some staff members had been infected while travelling.

Head of internal medicine at the hospital, Dr Merika Tsitsi, said with the proper use of PPE and adhering to social distancing, it would be impossible for staff to contract the virus from patients.

Gcaleka was at the hospital as part of her inspection of hospitals reserved for Covid-19 patients in Gauteng. She is examining the infrastructure developed specifically for the fight against the pandemic and is looking at the capacity of facilities in the province.

By Belinda Pheto -TimesLIVE

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