Johannesburg - It is a plea for help. This is how Professor Ken Huddle, head of Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital’s department of medicine, described a letter penned by himself and 16 of his colleagues, calling for the closure of the Folateng private wards in public hospitals.
The letter - which will be published in the May edition of the South African Medical Journal - decries the severe pressure on the health system in southern Gauteng, with severely ill public patients having to be turned away from hospitals when bed capacity reaches 100 percent, yet beds are available in the Folateng wards but are reserved for private patients.
Folateng is a network of private wards at Gauteng’s public hospitals.
They were designed to attract private sector patients to public sector facilities, giving patients the quality and convenience of private specialist physicians and technology.
They can be found at Charlotte Maxeke Academic, Helen Joseph, Sebokeng and Pretoria West hospitals.
The letter calls for reopening of the wards to public sector patients and reopening hospitals such as Hillbrow, Kempton Park and Lenasia South.
Speaking on Power Talk with Eusebius McKaiser on Power FM on Wednesday, Huddle said: “What’s been happening over the past year at the department of medicine - the largest department at Bara - is that we’ve been experiencing a progressively increasing intake of patients, to the extent that we are now overwhelmed with patients, and bed occupancy on many days is over 100 percent.”
The department has a bed capacity of 730, with a bed occupancy of 90 percent.
The letter states: “We admit over 100 patients a day, and not infrequently, have more patients than available beds. The result is that very sick people are kept waiting on chairs for long periods of time. The nurses, the doctors and the support services are frequently overstretched, resulting in sub-optimal service delivery.”
Last year, the Folateng wards were revealed to have run at a loss in 2012 of about R40 million, according to a report by the Gauteng legislature’s health committee, instead of making money to help run the hospitals for public patients.
According to DA MPL Jack Bloom, R30 million was lost at the 127-bed unit at Charlotte Maxeke, which had revenue of R42m, but R72m in expenses.
The losses were recorded in the other units too, and were caused by low-bed occupancy, under-charging for services and poor collection of debts.
Huddle said doctors had written the letter to the head of health in the province, but were not making progress in remedying the problem.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said having a two-tier system in public health facilities where patients were treated differently based on their income level was wrong, and he was “dead against it”.
He said there were still policy and contractual issues that impeded abolishing Folateng wards overnight.
Motsoaledi could not give timelines as to when policies would be changed regarding the units, saying it was one of the many things that needed overhauling in the public health system.
Huddle said: “They (units) go against the very principles of medicine… we must never be desensitised to what’s happening around us.”