Medical staff at Limpopo’s Tshilidzini Hospital on Tuesday blamed red tape for the acute shortage of life-saving equipment at the 500 bed facility. Speaking to Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela, who was at the Thohoyandou-based facility on a surprise visit, doctors and nurses said communicating their needs annually to provincial health authorities has not borne fruit.
The 55-year-old hospital did not have or was in short supply of anaesthetic machines, suction machines, patient monitors, diathermy machines, autoclaving machines and tourniquets. “We regularly borrow equipment from other hospitals. Sometimes they take back their equipment and we have to beg,” one nurse said.
Surgical items such as gloves and masks were insufficient. Unlike other hospitals that the Public Protector has been to, Tshilidzini did not have sanitizers to disinfect visitors to its high care wards, something that ought to be a standard procedure.
Officials told the Public Protector that contracts for the procurement of such items expired more than six months back and again blamed bureaucracy, saying it delayed the renewal of the agreements. In addition, officials did not have delegated powers to procure the items on their own.
Apart from equipment, the hospital’s human resources were overstretched, with only 24 doctors and a few specialists. It did not have resident paediatricians. Once a month, two paediatricians visit the facility from Mankweng Hospital in Polokwane as part of their outreach.
The major impediment to the recruitment and retention of professionals, according to staff, was incentives. The facility’s rural location was reported to be the main discouragement for doctors and other professionals to ply their trade there.
“There is a ‘rural allowance’ but it doesn’t serve as much of an incentive because the same criterion is used to incentivise doctors that choose to work at a semi-urban hospital. There is a need for the different degrees of ‘rural areas’ to be reflected in these allowances,” staff suggested.
In addition to financial incentives, non-availability of decent state-sponsored accommodation for professionals was cited as one of the factors that discourage professionals from relocating to the area.
Patients on the other hand complained about shortages of medication, with two telling the Public Protector that doctors at the hospital prescribed medication for them and referred them to private pharmacies, where they had to pay for the medicine.
Others, like at other facilities recently visited by the Public Protector, complained about waiting for far too long in queues to acquire their files, let alone see a doctor. One patient alleged that the hospital occasionally ran short of running water, questioning why that was the case when the facility was located not far from the Nandoni Dam.
The Public Protector also engaged with the locals at the Thohoyandou Town Hall, where various service delivery complaints were lodged. These included problems with mobile clinic services for far-flung areas and a request by a deaf person for sign language practitioners at hospitals to cater for his needs and those of others like him.
Other complaints related to a government poverty alleviation project that allegedly ended without the workers getting paid, land claim issues, payment of benefits for traditional authorities and RDP housing matters.
The Public Protector promised to work with complement organs of state to get to the bottom of the problems and to find solutions. She told the community that her office would investigate all the complex matters.
The Public Protector and her deputy, Adv. Kevin Malunga, are in the province as part of their office’s National Stakeholder Dialogue. The dialogue focuses on strengthening government’s ability to deliver on the Millennium Development Goals, placing special emphasis on improving healthcare services and eradicating poverty.
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