Cape Town - Members of the Elsies River health committee have been barred from the area’s community health centre amidst a row with senior managers there over patient care and accusations of threatening behaviour.
The committee has accused management of sidelining the oversight body resulting in a breakdown of community relations and poor service.
But the provincial Department of Health said committee members had “harassed” both facility and security staff at the clinic, “threatening their physical safety”.
The committee alleges that senior managers of Elsies River Community Health Centre not only refused to acknowledge the five-month-old clinic committee as a legislative body, but have even barred some of its members from holding meetings or accessing health services from that clinic.
Committee chairman Ronald Ruiters accused managers of not taking responsibility for poor service and resorting to “bullying tactics” when complaints were brought to them.
Faiza Steyn, spokeswoman for the provincial department, has admitted that the committee was being denied access to the facility, following allegations of threats to staff.
“We have approached [police] to provide protection to the local facility staff and have approached [departmental] legal services to apply for a court interdict,” she said.
Ruiters said that despite being elected by residents in April and receiving numerous complaints from patients in the past five months, the body had not had an opportunity to exercise its oversight role or formally raise complaints with management as they were not given a platform to do so.
“Our hands are tied because the facility manager won’t even let us go near the clinic to hold meetings or even have access to health services, for that matter.”
The committee claims it made itself unpopular with management by asking about the turning away of patients by security guards before they were examined by medical staff. One such complaint was the stabbing of an escort who was attacked outside the clinic while waiting for a relative.
In May, the committee also witnessed a patient who was turned away by a security guard because she did not have a card.
“We requested that this practice be stopped immediately as security guards don’t have any medical qualifications to make such decisions,” said Ruiters, who claimed that he was also a victim of “unruly behaviour” by security personnel.
Last week, Ruiters had to call the police to intervene after he was barred from entering the clinic by a security guard, who had received orders from management not to let him in.
The committee secretary, Tersia Morris, described the clinic managers as “untouchables”. “There’s lots of problems at the clinic that include, among others, staff shortages. For almost two weeks recently, there was no doctor at the clinic - but we couldn’t question management on this because they are not talking to us.
“Thousands of poor patients who use the clinic can’t have their voices heard because there is no one representing these poor patients.
“Staff do as they please and treat patients anyhow because they know that nobody will hold them accountable,” she said.
But Steyn said the department was not aware of any complaints from the clinic, including allegations that patients were turned away.
“The department is committed to attend to all patients who present to its public health facilities. Therefore all patients attending Elsies River Community Health Centre are triaged to determine their acuity level, on presentation,” she said.
The department also didn’t recognise the committee as it had put the formation of new health committees on hold following the establishment of a new oversight body - the District Health Council - which provided a legislative framework of clinic health committees.
“In lieu of the pending framework, the establishment of new health committees had been put on hold,” she said.