Durban - A 24-hour clinic in KwaZulu-Natal will now close at 4pm in a bid to protect staff from violent attacks.
Following the latest incident two weeks ago, when criminals invaded the health facility and assaulted security guards - they took their cellphones, manhandled nurses and fired shots with a rifle - the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health this week approved the decision by Ezakheni No 2 Clinic to operate on regular hours.
The facility is located near Ladysmith.
The department said staff had to receive psychological counselling after the incident, which police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane said took place at about 11.45pm.
Zwane said no arrests had been made and investigations were continuing.
The health department said none of the staff turned up for work the next day. Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, who visited the facility on Thursday, endorsed the decision to shut early.
He said he and Safety MEC Willies Mchunu, as well as the local community, needed to address the general issue of crime that continued to affect service delivery in the area.
Dhlomo said a decision would be taken at a meeting on whether the clinic or a nearby tavern, just 100m away, would be closed down.
Remarking on the reduced working hours for the clinic and its possible closure, Dhlomo said: “This is a painful decision. But it’s in the interests of our workers. We can’t sacrifice them at the altar of criminal elements.
“The people of this community must take a decision that they don’t want crime and start protecting both the staff and this health-care installation.
“If they fail to do that then they are bound to suffer.”
The department said that the facility, which was regarded as a “mini-hospital”, provided vital services to the community and was one of the busiest in the uThukela District, attending to 25 322 cases per quarter, from a population of 34 097 in places like Ndaka, Steadville, Matiwane and eZakheni.
Since its commission in the late 1990s, the clinic has been rendering a 24-hour service.
It has 36 employees.
Department spokesman, Desmond Motha, told the Daily News there had been 13 incidents at the facility since October 2002.
Describing some of the more serious ones, he said a nurse attending to a female patient was once confronted by a man who wanted to be seen first, claiming to be an emergency case.
“The female patient was pushed out of an examination bench and sustained head injuries.”
He said in September last year, a group of 10 people had brought in a patient who was involved in a car accident.
“All of them demanded to be allowed in the consultation room. When security was called, they produced knives and started fighting each other and eventually stabbed the one they had brought in when he tried to stop them.”
Other incidents included the stabbing of a security guard by a patient in 2005 and the attack of a gunshot victim and staff by an assailant who followed the victim to the clinic.
“In one disturbing case, a nurse was forced to abandon a woman who was in labour and instead prioritise an intoxicated man with a stab wound.”
Already, the repercussions of the move to curtail operating times are being felt.
The department said that there were already emergency patients who had been turned away and referred to St Chad’s Clinic – more than 30km away.
“Those who could not be assisted included a woman who was in labour, a stabbed man and an asthmatic child.”
For Addison Nkabinde, 47, who lives in Ezakheni’s D-section, the news had come at a “huge shock”.
“This is going to be a disaster. My fiancée is pregnant and often goes for check-ups to that clinic,” he said on Thursday night.
“It’s so convenient for us because it’s so close.”
Nkabinde said the clinic had saved many lives and its after-hours services would be greatly missed by the local community.
“Going to Ladysmith is too far and the ambulances take too long to come to us.”
Nkabinde, the owner of a construction business, added: “This is not a solution. Why can’t security be upgraded instead?”