Durban - Addington Hospital in the Durban city centre is likely to be closed down so that it can be renovated and its systems overhauled.
This week, four wards and four theatres were shut and patients were transferred to other facilities when the air conditioning in the ailing 524-bed regional hospital packed up.
KwaZulu-Natal head of health Sibongile Zungu said on Wednesday night: “It would be better to close down the whole hospital. We are considering it. We are in the process of starting public consultation to find out if this is the right way to solve Addington’s problems.”
She warned that the decision could place in jeopardy one of two planned new public hospitals – Dr Pixley ka Seme in KwaMashu or the John Dube Hospital in Inanda.
This was because the budget allocated for the development of one of the facilities would have to be redirected to Addington. This could be in excess of R2 billion.
Addington Hospital’s decline from being one of the country’s top medical centres has been ongoing with a series of setbacks hitting the ailing facility which is the province’s second-largest hospital after the 1 300-bed King Edward VIII in Umbilo.
In July, provincial health portfolio committee members visited the hospital and expressed shock at what they found. They gave the hospital management three months to turn things around. But that period went by and problems worsened.
The committee found that the hospital had been hit by staff shortages, poor leadership and low morale among staff. It was also operating with a severe shortage of linen for patients, doctors and nurses. It was also short of drugs.
A week ago, a letter from the head of the surgery unit, Dr Masee Naidoo, to acting chief executive Thabisile Sakyi was leaked to The Mercury. In it Naidoo said that doctors were being forced to practise substandard medicine, exposing themselves and the hospital to possible legal action from patients.
He said operating theatres were too hot, exposing wounds to sepsis and that doctors did not have basic medical items to look after their patients.
DA health spokeswoman Makhosazana Mdlalose said that she supported the idea of closing Addington.
“We are in a process of rolling out National Health Insurance, but we must first deal with the problem of health facilities before we introduce it,” she said.
Patients were being sent to the King George V, in Springfield, and Wentworth hospitals this week after an emergency meeting of officials and labour unions last Friday. This was after the closure of the orthopaedic, gynaecological, surgical and maternity wards. The four theatres which service these wards were also shut down. Nurses were also being moved to other facilities.
Zungu said it would take about five years before the affected wards could be re-opened.
“It takes longer to renovate an already existing building than starting afresh,” she said. King George V had taken five years to refurbish.
The hospital was “ageing and deteriorating”, she said, which was behind the air conditioning malfunction.
“We have been trying to deal with problems at the hospital without success, which is why we decided to relocate patients and then do the refurbishment,” said Zungu.
She declined to say when the task team report on corruption and mismanagement at Addington would be available.
KZN Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo said closing down the wards and theatre was part of the turn-around strategy.
“We had a choice of keeping the patients in wards without air conditioners, but we decided to move them to better facilities,” he said.
Nurses, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the air conditioning problem had became so serious that they and patients brought their own fans.
“Our doctor wrote a letter to the management about the problem but nothing has been done,” said a nurse referring to Naidoo’s letter.
IFP health spokeswoman Usha Roopnarain said the air conditioning had not been repaired even though the province had allocated R2.2 million for the job.
“This should have taken a maximum of seven days to complete,” she said.
Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa provincial organiser Sindi Ngcobo said she was present at the meeting last week between the province’s health management and labour unions.
“It was agreed that only one theatre should be left to operate while others were shut down.
“Air conditioners were not the only problem facing Addington. Lack of medication and protective clothing still remain a problem,” said Ngcobo. - The Mercury