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Disabled patients complain of ‘poor treatment’

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City patients who are referred to their local clinics for medical examinations in order to renew or apply for disability grants have raised concerns about the ‘poor treatment’ they allegedly receive from clinic staff, who they claim give preference to acquaintances.

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CITY patients who are referred to their local clinics for medical examinations in order to renew or apply for disability grants have raised concerns about the “poor treatment” they allegedly receive from clinic staff, who they claim give preference to acquaintances.

They have accused the staff at clinics of making patients, including those in wheelchairs, queue for the entire day, despite being referred by the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa), before eventually sending them home to “wait until next month”.

Following a recent incident at Floors Clinic, a disabled patient called on Sassa to intervene after he was apparently sent back home for the third month and told that the doctor had already seen his required quota of 40 patients for the day.

The patient complained that he sat and watched as other patients passed him in the queue, consulted the doctor and then left.

He said he arrived at the clinic at around 7am and had to queue the whole day on an empty stomach, only to be told that the “system had changed”.

Upon asking about how the system had changed, he said he was told that he should return next month to enquire.

The patient was confident that he was on the list because Sassa had contacted him to go to the clinic on the set date.

“At first, I was told that I came late, and when I asked why the rest of the people who came after me went into the consultation, they said the system had changed. Upon enquiring as to how the system had changed exactly, in order for me to comply, they did not give direct answers on the changes and said I should keep on enquiring about when the doctor will come,” said the frustrated patient.

He raised concerns that, apart from going to bed on an empty stomach, his policies are on the verge of lapsing due to not receiving his grant money.

“We borrow money from people with the hope that things will fall into place, but we cannot pay the people back or on time.

“It’s very frustrating because there is no proper communication of whether we are expected to go and start queuing at the clinic at 4am in order to see the doctor. That is in case the system has changed to first come, first served.

“I feel they should have contacted us to let us know when the system changed, so we can be prepared about what is required, instead of making us queue in the scorching heat on a hungry stomach.

“I was not the only patient who was complaining about this on the day.

“It is painful for us disabled people to be treated like non-human beings. We are treated like we don’t matter. The worst part is that you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from.”

Sassa has, however, refuted claims that booked clients get sent home from clinics without seeing a doctor.

Sassa spokesperson Mamazane Shabangu said only applicants who have been booked to be assessed by Sassa-contracted medical practitioners will be assessed and no person will be assessed without a booking.

“The booking is done on an online register that is regularly monitored for compliance and, after assessments, the application forms are checked against the bookings register. This is to prevent the assessment of applicants who were not booked,” said Shabangu.

She explained that permanently awarded disability grants are those where the disability is expected to last for longer than 12 consecutive months and it may be reviewed after five years.

When the disability or medical condition is likely to improve with treatment or other interventions, the grant may be awarded for a temporary period of between six and 12 months. After this time, the grant lapses, in accordance with the conditions set out in the Social Assistance Act, 2004.

“If, upon lapsing of the grant, the client is still unable to be employed as a result of the disability or medical condition, he/she needs to re-apply for the grant. This re-application requires a new medical assessment, which will confirm whether the condition warrants a grant,” explained Shabangu.

“The Sassa process for assessments by a contracted medical practitioner has not changed. Applicants for the disability grant will first need to go to their nearest Sassa office for the screening process, with a detailed referral report from their treating doctor that confirms the medical condition or disability of the applicant.

“Sassa staff will then take the applicant’s details in order to contact him/her at a later stage to confirm when the applicant should return for a medical assessment by a Sassa-contracted practitioner.

“The information in the referral letter will be used to inform the Sassa-contracted medical practitioner, who is required to complete an assessment and recommend whether the grant should be awarded or not.

“Sassa will, having taken all factors into account, including the medical assessment, and after applying the means test, either approve or decline the application.

“It is worth noting that the medical practitioners are contracted to assess a maximum of 40 applicants per day.”

Shabangu highlighted the importance of an applicant requesting Sassa to reconsider the decision if the grant is not approved.

She said the appeal must be done within 90 days of being informed of the outcome of the application.

The applicant who wishes to lodge an appeal is urged to send their appeal directly to the Independent Tribunal for Social Assistance Appeals (ITSAA) and not through the Sassa office.

“It is the responsibility of the officials in the office to provide the applicant with the necessary forms and contact details of the independent tribunal to enable them to lodge an appeal.”

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