DA MPL Bobby Stevenson said the conditions at the hospital were a “sad indictment on the state of health care”.

PORT Elizabeth’s busiest state hospital is a ticking time bomb with health and fire hazards threatening the hundreds of patients and visitors passing through its halls each day.

And in spite of a warning to management from the Eastern Cape Health Department last week to clean up its act, Livingstone Hospital’s corridors continue to be littered with dirty linen, cigarette butts, rubble and even bird droppings.

The results of a Weekend Post investigation into conditions in the hospital have been slammed by the department, which is currently cracking down on hospitals across the province that have exhibited similar appalling conditions.

Department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said he was in Port Elizabeth last week and had already reported his concerns to hospital management. “We can’t have the safety and health of our patients at risk. I have therefore warned management to clean up their act,” Kupelo said.

He added that the unhygienic conditions at Livingstone were not limited to Port Elizabeth.

“We’ve seen similar cases across the province, including Mthatha.”

Nelson Mandela Bay Municipal senior fire safety officer Johan Potgieter has also vowed to launch an investigation after being shown photographs of conditions at the hospital this week.

When Weekend Post visited the hospital this week, the P-block – which includes a children’s ward – was strewn with rubbish from dirty hospital linen, old equipment, bird droppings and cigarette butts.

On arrival a sick toddler was being transported along the filthy corridors to the ward. The filth became progressively worse with each floor. It also appeared as if the corridors had not been swept for some time.

Some of the linen included surgical clothing, dirty sheets and blankets as well as hair nets.

The rubble ranged from old incubators to plastic containers, boxes, old office furniture, broken tiles and electrical wire.

In some of the rooms pigeons had begun nesting as a result of broken windows, leaving a trail of bird droppings on the walls and floors.

One of the filthy rooms also appeared to be used as a “tea room” where staff eat and drink. A fridge had been turned on its side to be used as a table. There were empty cooldrink cans all over the room and hundreds of cigarette butts and boxes on the floor.

Signs had been ripped off and replaced with handwritten notes with permanent markers on the walls.

Emergency exits were either padlocked or obstructed by boxes and other storage containers. Most of the light switches had no covers and had exposed electrical wires. Numerous lifts were also out of order.

The P-block is connected to the main building by hallways and is just a few metres away from the hospital’s isolation unit and a large liquid oxygen tank.

Safety experts who spoke on condition of anonymity said if a fire had to break out – which they believed was a distinct possibility with all the cigarette butts, indicating smoking in the building – it could swiftly spread through the whole hospital.

The experts said in most cases it was not the flames that were lethal, but the inhalation of smoke. They added this was especially risky in a hospital with sick patients who could find it difficult to evacuate the building in an emergency.

The blocked fire exits could also lead to death or serious injury.

A further concern was the lack of security at the hospital. Not once during Weekend Post’s visit did any security officer inquire about the purpose of the visit or prevent entry.

In his response to the investigation, Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex chief executive Mzoli Njalo claimed there were sections of the hospital that were “targeted for future renovations”.

“These are the wards that are not utilised for patient care and as such, the area is prevented from being accessed by hospital staff, patients and the public in general. Hence it is not frequently cleaned,” said Njalo.

However, he could not explain why there was a children’s ward, patients and staff in the wing. “I will have to do a physical inspection on Monday.”

Municipal spokesperson Kupido Baron said the municipality’s fire safety sub-directorate would “embark on a visit to Livingstone Hospital next week to ascertain compliance with bylaws and legislation”.

DA MPL Bobby Stevenson said the conditions at the hospital were a “sad indictment on the state of health care”.

“It is sick, sick, sick that a hospital which is supposed to display high standards of cleanliness and safety could deteriorate to such an extent,” Stevenson said.

“This puts the lives of the patients at risk. Having a fire break out at any hospital is a nightmare. It becomes very difficult to move sick, immobile patients out of harm’s way,” said Stevenson.

Kupelo said he would be following up on the latest complaints immediately.

“I can tell you this is not budget or money problems, this is effective management and monitoring problems. That is why we (the department) are addressing this issue. We want to appoint managers with not only managerial skills, but also clinical experience.

“We need experienced people to sort out the problems at hospitals in the Eastern Cape.”

He also encouraged members of the public to raise their concerns with the department. “We will act on these reports.”