Home News Patients to ’wait years’ for surgery at city hospital

Patients to ’wait years’ for surgery at city hospital

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Doctors, nurses and general staff staged a picket at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital this week to voice their frustrations. Picture: Soraya Crowie

Patients can expect to wait years before undergoing emergency or elective surgery at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital in Kimberley because of cost-cutting measures, limited operating hours and staff shortages.

PATIENTS can expect to wait years before undergoing emergency or elective surgery at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital (RMSH) in Kimberley because of cost-cutting measures, limited operating hours and staff shortages.

Doctors, nurses and general staff staged a picket outside the medical unit this week to voice their frustrations over how they are unable to take “adequate care” of their patients.

The head of the ear, nose and throat unit at RMSH, Dr Rehuel Bortslap, indicated that they were functioning at a 30 percent staffing capacity.

“There is a massive backlog, where doctors have to choose whether they should operate on patients that are facing life-threatening conditions or patients that may develop serious complications or may even die if they do not undergo surgery. This means surgeries are focused on cancer patients. Recently, an eight-year old patient developed an ear infection and later suffered brain damage – this could have been avoided if she had undergone surgery sooner,” said Bortslap.

He added that the waiting list for emergency cases was also long as the hospital only permitted surgeries to take place every fortnight, two times per week.

“We used to perform surgery three times per week. Currently, the waiting period can take years, where there is a backlog of thousands of patients. Clinics are meanwhile also referring patients to RMSH as they also do not have the resources to perform their duties.”

Bortslap stated that referral hospitals were not able to alleviate the backlog as they did not have the funds to cover unscheduled surgeries for patients from other provinces.

“RMSH is the only tertiary hospital in the Province and yet it is not able to function as one due to a massive shortage of staff, funding and limited theatre times. This means patients are not receiving equitable care and it amounts to a human rights violation.”

He pointed out that government “did not have its priorities right” if it was able to bail out South African Airways with R10 billion but is unable fund critical health care.

“While cutting back on surgeries and the appointment of staff results in saving money, it compromises health care. Medical staff lose empathy as they are overworked and burnt out. Specialists and medical experts who are interested in working in Kimberley are only given notice 12 months after they were interviewed. By that time they find employment in another province or enter private practice. Community services doctors who have completed their training have no guarantee that they will receive their salaries as they have to wait months before they are offered permanent employment. It has a snowball effect as we are unable to use the theatre if there are not sufficient anaesthesiologists and theatre nurses.”

Bortslap added that RMSH was supposed to be one of the best trainee hospitals in the country. “However, with the current situation, it is not possible to train doctors due to reduced theatre times. Experienced surgeons have a limited time in which to get the job done as quickly as possible. This will create a problem in the long run, where doctors will not be equipped with surgical expertise. ”

The acting head of the Northern Cape Department of Health, Riaan Strydom, who addressed employees, explained that due to budget cuts amounting to billions of rand the department was not able to appoint more staff.

“We could have appointed 1,800 nurses in the Province with the money that was cut from the budget. The Covid-19 pandemic also depleted the finances. The budget cuts of around R1 billion forced us to revisit services and appointments. According to reports, we will only receive full budgets in 2024/25.”

He indicated that all departments were prevented from processing appointments, which meant there was no guarantee that staff would receive their salaries if they were not registered on the Persal system.

Strydom stated that they had succeeded in preventing further budgetary cuts this year, where the funds would be used to address staff shortages and upgrade equipment.

Doctors, nurses and general staff staged a picket outside the medical unit this week to voice their frustrations over staff shortages. Picture: Soraya Crowie

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