E Cape health in critical state: Daily Dispatch

Hundreds of posts are vacant

EAST London resident Gavin Rusterberg thought he would never walk normally after fracturing his hip bones during a freak rugby accident in 2011.

Although initially told his injury was not serious, a later scan taken to establish the cause of his severe pain revealed the fractures.

He was placed on a state waiting list for non-emergency surgeries.


To date Rusterberg has heard nothing from Frere Hospital, however such was the degree of his pain it prevented him from working and he sought help elsewhere.

After his plight was highlighted in a television programme last year, a Cape Town surgeon offered to carry out free hip replacement surgery.

“He now leads a normal life, including taking light jogs in the morning and he started a new job in January,” Rusterberg’s wife Susan said.

Rusterberg is one of 1 700 citizens, including 640 children, waiting for various non-emergency medical surgeries in four of the province’s main hospitals.

Health MEC Sicelo Gqobana says such long queues were a result of a shortage of doctors, including specialists, and nurses in Livingstone, Frere, Dora Nginza and Port Elizabeth Provincial.

The Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex is the most adversely affected by the shortage, with Livingstone recording a shortfall of 76 doctors, six of which are specialists, as well as 88 nurses.

Dora Nginza is in need of 35 general doctors, four specialists and 81 nurses, while Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital is in need of four doctors, two specialists and 46 nurses.

East London’s Frere Hospital needs 32 doctors, six specialists and 101 nurses.

Replying to a parliamentary question posed by DA MPL John Cupido at Bhisho legislature last week, Gqobana said there were 500 people waiting for non-emergency surgeries at Livingstone, 303 in Frere and 300 at Port Elizabeth Provincial.

He said young children were also on the non-emergency surgery list, including 220 in Livingstone, 300 at PE Provincial and 120 at Mdantsane’s Cecilia Makiwane Hospital.

A Cape Town-based general surgeon Dr Martin Makhalima said nonemergency surgery was known as an elective surgery and was done to correct non-life threatening conditions.

It is carried out at the patient’s request.

Makhalima further explained that emergency surgery was one that must be done promptly to save life, limb, or functional capacity, while a semi-elective surgery is one that must be done to avoid permanent disability or death, but can be postponed for a short time.

Gqobana said the department was in the process of filling its vacancies.

“Interviews for doctors, nurses and other support staff are being conducted and we are in the process of [making appointments].

“However, I must state that it’s difficult for us to recruit specialists as they are scarce,” Gqobana said.

Cupido yesterday said the situation was unacceptable.

“It’s a dire state and more needs to be done to recruit these personnel. We need to get them here even if it means we head-hunt them,” Cupido said.

Cupido said as an MPL he receives calls from people who have been on the waiting list for three to five years.

“The waiting lists are getting longer and, as a result, people are living ineffective, unproductive and very painful lives which could be solved by one simple surgery,” he said. —