A report by IOL revealed mixed reviews by experts and patients for the Western Cape’s healthcare system, which, while providing mostly excellent service in certain hospitals, is seen to be especially lacking in rural areas, infrastructure and handling of patients.
Along with receiving the highest marks for efficiency, Western Cape healthcare has earned recognition such as through the Batho Pele Excellence Awards, with a silver medal going to Dr Barry Smith who worked in frontline COVID hospitals in Cape Town, where as medical manager he organised efforts to deal with devastating COVID waves.
A total of R29.4 billion has been allocated to the province’s 2022–2023 budget to deal with a serious backlog of unmet TB, HIV and other medical care put off during the COVID waves, along with a new surge in mental health issues.
A critical view
The ANC’s Rachel Windvogel said that while Western Cape is said have the country’s ‘most efficient’ health-care system, it is deteriorating and “nearing collapse”.
Dilapidated infrastructure in hospitals such as Groote Schuur and Tygerberg Hospitals is a challenged, with “sections that are cordoned off and not functioning.”
The knock-on service pressure across all district hospitals has resulted in patients having to sleep in chairs or on the floor.
Windvogel said that the Khayelitsha District Hospital is a prime example, with R150 million allocated for upgrades by the hospital but with no provincial government funding forthcoming.
She said that the provincial government’s boasts about a leading healthcare system does not match the situation. This can be seen in rural communities where people wait days for an ambulance transfer to city hospitals, she said, and doctors only visiting rural clinics to issue prescriptions without examining patients.
From the wards
Speaking to IOL, on the condition of anonymity, a nurse with over 15 years of experience currently working at a local government hospital said that while they try their best to deliver a service to residents, the sector has so much lacking.
The quality of new nurses has been steadily declining, she said. “As nurses, we are inundated with work but we manage, however, as an experienced nurse seeing how the ‘latest intakes’ have no feeling towards patients is sad.”
There have been deaths from “incorrect triages” as well as problems with nurses not knowing how to speak to the community, resulting in “pissing off the very community we took an oath to serve,” she said.
While she believes nursing is her calling, she is considering moving over to the private sector, driven by a high workload, crime, poor pay and lack of experienced assistance.
A patient’s experience
Candice van der Rheede, director of the Western Cape Missing Persons Unit (WCMPU) has been through a string of hospitals since 2020 following a collapsed lung, and her experiences reflected problems with staffing and gender segregation.
She first stayed at Mitchells Plain District Hospital, and her ward was “spotless” with security “always there”. “If help was needed and you buzzed for help, nurses came immediately,” she told IOL.
The thoracic ward at Groote Schuur Hospital was also praiseworthy – except that her ward was in the middle of the men’s section.
“One night I woke up and saw one of the men standing and watching us ladies with no nurses on the inside,” Van der Rheede said.
However, entering the ICU ward after theatre, her experience took a turn for the worse, being roughly handled when check for bed sores, despite her having a large surgical wound.
In November, Van der Rheede had to overnight in the trauma section at Tygerberg Hospital due to a check-up. While she was generally satisified with the hospital and its staff, there was a major sticking point for her – in the trauma section, “we were men and women sleeping in one room which I had a big problem with. Using one toilet. I could not sleep that night.”
While she has her reservations about the state of hospitals in the province, Van der Rheede told IOL she commended the Mitchells Plain District Hospital for its impeccable service, and the Symphony Clinic in Delft which she currently attends is of the highest standard of service and cleanliness.