Transport woes depriving patients of medical care and medication

The situation at the Butterworth Hospital, where many sick and elderly patients wait for a full day, and in some cases even spending the night, for medical attention is testament to the fact that free health care in the Eastern Cape is a myth.

I recently conducted an oversight inspection at the hospital and found that many of the patients spend the night in the Outpatients Department (OPD) are not waiting to be attended to at the Butterworth Hospital. Instead, they are waiting to be transferred to provincial hospitals such as the Frere or Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in East London.

These patients have had to travel long distances from rural villages via taxis, which are unpredictable at best. Very often they reach Butterworth Hospital after the patient transfer vehicle has already left for East London. They have paid upwards of R50 to reach town and simply cannot afford to travel back home and repeat the process the following day.

These patients then spend the night in a chair or even on the floor in the hospital, waiting for the next transfer vehicle.

In most other cases, rural clinics have had to refer patients to the Butterworth Hospital because they do not have the required medication in stock. This is not because they have failed to order the medications, but because they depend on the disastrous Mthatha Medicine Depot to supply the medication.

This depot is a disgrace, but no action is taken against the totally incompetent managers. The fact that rural and urban clinics cannot access the medication they require from this facility in order to serve patients adequately, is an indictment on the depot and on the Eastern Cape Department of Health.

Sick and the elderly patients are then forced to pay taxi fare to Butterworth Hospital, which is able to order medication directly from suppliers and does not have to deal with the Mthatha depot. The round trip from nearby clinics such as Gwadana is in excess of R100. This flies in the face of so called free medical services and affects the indigent most severely. The understanding is that medication should follow the patient and not the other way around.

I have written to the MEC for Health, Sindiswa Gomba, to request a full report on the status of the Mthatha Medical Depot. I have also asked that the Department of Health consider launching a rural patient transfer system such as the one in the Western Cape, which successfully transfers 150 000 patients per annum.

Download: Letter to MEC

The Democratic Alliance believes that if the Department of Health purports to offer free health care services, then this should include accessing medication at no cost to the patient.