Clinics in Crisis

People across the Eastern Cape, who are in desperate need of basic healthcare and medicine, are being ignored by the Department of Health, who have lost sight of their mandate of providing and ensuring accessible, comprehensive, integrated health care services.

This was evident during a recent oversight visit to the St Patrick’s Gateway Clinic in Bizana recently. What I witnessed there was a stark reminder of just how badly the Department of Health has failed.

The clinic is terribly understaffed and very overcrowded. The queue wrapped around the building as hundreds of patients braved the pouring rain, waiting to see one of just four nurses on duty.

A receptionist was trying to fill in patient cards as there was no admin clerk to do so. Young mothers and their crying infants were jostling to get to her. The manager of the facility was away on training and the second in command was on sick leave.

One could barely pass through the corridors. The public toilets inside were locked or used as storage facilities. The outside toilets were filthy, with medical waste.

Some desperate, wet and tearful patients were there for the second day in a row as they had not been attended to the day before.

While interacting with patients outside, a woman with a dreadful burn wound on her leg collapsed on the cement. She had been told she needed to go across the road to the hospital, but nobody could give her her file. Without it she would not be admitted. After several minutes of us knocking on doors and calling for help, a nurse arrived with a wheelchair to assist her.

The dire situation at this clinic is sadly reflected in most clinics in villages and towns across the province.

Health care is on the brink of collapse and yet the department of Health is in denial. Staff organograms are yet to be implemented in most facilities, so shortages of doctors, nurses and support staff remain critical.

The Mthatha Medicine Depot, which should supply medicines to most of the hospitals and clinics on the eastern side of the province, is completely dysfunctional but no steps have been taken to investigate or rectify the situation there. As a result, many clinics either borrow medicines from other facilities, or travel to Port Elizabeth to get the necessary stock there.

Without the necessary qualified personnel and the chronic and other medication to treat patients, the Department of Health faces the very real likelihood of increased medico-legal claims.

I will write to the MEC for Health and request a breakdown of staff numbers at the clinic. I will also request an investigation into, and a recovery plan for, the disastrous Mthatha Medicine Depot.

All members of society deserve the dignity of effective and efficient health care. The Democratic Alliance will not rest until the Department of Health starts taking sensible corrective measures.

Community members, many young mothers with infants, jockey for position in an overcrowded waiting room, waiting for basic medical care.

Shadow MEC for Health, Jane Cowley, assists a woman who had collapsed outside the clinic.

Even more community members queue outside in the rain in the hopes of being seen by one of just four nurses on duty.

The toilets at the clinic are in an appalling state.