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Cape Town -
Nontuthuzelo of Khayelitsha was a mother in her early thirties when she started seeking health care at the Robbie Nurock community day clinic in the city centre in the 1980s.
For decades this 61-year-old grandmother, who worked at a Vredehoek old-age home, would visit the clinic whenever she felt unwell, citing good service delivery as a reason for her repeated visits.
“It was a beautiful clinic. The building was spick and span, and nurses were on the ball. You could actually come to the clinic before work and still be on time… it was that good,” she said.
But after 30 years the pensioner, who declined to give her full name, is no longer impressed.
“I watched it deteriorate from a beautiful and well-managed clinic into the unpleasant facility it is today. Not only do you wait for hours before getting help, but the building is in such a state of disrepair that it’s difficult to believe that it was once a stunning establishment.
“The walls are crumbling, toilets are filthy and staff don’t look as enthusiastic as they used to… I don’t know if they have lost interest in their job or if the state of this building is to blame for their poor service.”
When the Cape Argus visited the clinic in Buitenkant Street on Monday, the floor was partially covered by dust due to renovations - the clinic is being upgraded to the tune of R650 000 - some walls had come down, and two out of three toilets on the ground floor were out of order.
The only functional toilet was filthy with urine on the seat and the floor, and there were neither toilet rolls nor soap to wash hands.
The provincial Department of Health confirmed that the clinic was one of the most dilapidated in the province, with its infrastructure falling under the C1 category for “very poor”. It will be replaced by the District Six Community Health Centre in three years.
While Nontuthuzelo initially went to Robbie Nurock for both its service and because it was in a safety area, only the safety reason remained.
“It’s still safe for me to come here because I don’t have to queue at 4am and risk being robbed, as is the case in Khayelitsha clinics. But you still sit for hours before getting help even here, just like other clinics.”
Mohammed Levendal of Bonteheuwel went to the clinic after a “sudden illness”, but four hours after he walked in he was yet to get his folder.
“I’ve been told to be patient because I don’t have an appointment, but I’ve been listening to some patients who are also complaining that they are still not attended to despite having a 9am appointment. The service is just so poor. The facility isn’t user-friendly either - it’s not just old and dilapidated, but it lacks ventilation too.
“With so much TB around I wouldn’t be surprised that some people contract it while queuing here. The clinic really needs a new face.”
Busisiwe Paku, who gets her chronic medication at Robbie Nurock every month, blamed the filth on poor management who allowed the homeless to use it freely.
But Stephnie Heeger of Athlone was more forgiving.
“The clinic doesn’t look so great, but I’ve been using it for myself and my family in the past four years because I know nurses here are doing an excellent job. I’ve never spent more than three hours here. The service is so much better compared to the Silver Town clinic that my mother goes to,” she said.
A spokesman for the provincial Health Department conceded that the clinic was short of staff, which was part of a national problem.
As to the lack of soap and toilet paper in the lavatories, he said the clinic had been experiencing a surge of vandalism - not only paper and soap but basin plugs, toilet seats, pipes and door locks were being stolen.
“We apologise to all patients for all the inconvenience caused. Our maintenance team is doing their best to replace and repair these items.”
The department added that the building was a national monument and it had no jurisdiction over the maintenance to the exterior of the building, only on improving the interior.