1 Military Hospital in ICU
Pretoria - Once the centre of medical excellence, 1 Military Hospital is slowly crumbling under alleged mismanagement of funds and acute staff and equipment shortages.
Staff and stakeholders have called it a shell of its former self and a shadow of what was once hailed as the best medical facility in the region.
Despite an injection of more than R120 million for upgrades five years ago, conditions at the hospital in Thaba Tshwane have deteriorated over the past few years.
The unfinished renovations and staff shortages have prompted an investigation by the government into the hospital and other military health facilities.
Problems at the hospital have been traced back almost eight years by staff and others close to operations at the facility. They say the much-publicised exodus of doctors, specialists and other medical staff over financial issues and working conditions are only the tip of the iceberg.
In response to queries on the situation at the hospital, Colonel Louis Kirstein from communications said: “The concerns are part of the terms of reference of the ministerial task team investigating the challenges at the SA Military Hospital.”
The team was finalising its investigations and any response to questions on the hospital would be inappropriate, Kirstein said.
The rot, the Pretoria News was told, ran deeper than salaries and general unhappiness. “Departments are in complete disarray, some floors have been shut down and staff cramped into small working spaces. There are no facilities within departments and medical staff have to work with the barest minimum,” a worker said.
The normal shortage of staff was compounded by a lack of effort to improve salaries and allowances and therefore attract well-trained staff. “This was too much for the remaining doctors, so they left.”
The shortages mean members of the defence force, their families and veterans of the force are being referred to other facilities in the city.
“We are being referred to other hospitals at a huge cost to the government and taxpayer, on top of which we then have to buy our own medication,” one military veteran claimed.
She was due to have heart surgery, and was referred to the Heart Hospital, while those with other conditions are being sent to Unitas, Medforum Medi-Clinic, Zuid-Afrikaans, Louis Pasteur and Steve Biko and Kalafong state hospitals.
After a visit to the hospital last year, the health portfolio committee spoke of their shock at the “slow pace of the renovations”, and at the amount of money going into outsourcing facilities. They found that more than R3m was being used for functions like X-rays and obstetrics services in other hospitals a month, money they felt could be saved if renovations had been completed.
According to documents, more than 77 000 referrals to government and private hospitals had been made by the SA Military Health Services last year – at a cost of almost R450m.
Some R295m of this was paid to facilities that rendered services to 1 Military Hospital.
When the Department of Defence and Military Veterans announced the R120m upgrades to the hospital, the plan had been to refurbish all wards, renovate all floors, upgrade equipment and update facilities.
“They came in and changed the face of some sections of the hospital, but left others worse off than before,” a source said.
The hospital is a level four facility with the ability to deliver quality services to the country’s armed forces, to deal with casualties from UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, the AU Standby Force and the Southern African Development Community.
It is also responsible for satellite medical facilities around the country and for the training and deployment of all medical personnel within the force.