The entrance to Natalspruit Hospital in Kathlehong on the East Rand, north-east of Johannesburg, which is said to be one of the worst hospitals in South Africa. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya
The entrance to Natalspruit Hospital in Kathlehong on the East Rand, north-east of Johannesburg, which is said to be one of the worst hospitals in South Africa. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya
A sign on a bathroom at the Natalspruit hospital.
A sign on a bathroom at the Natalspruit hospital.

Johannesburg - With dilapidated, broken toilets, dripping water pipes, unavailable nurses, piled-up rubbish-bin bags with flies feasting on their contents right outside wards where sick patients lie, no phone lines and no lifts, the Natalspruit Hospital in Katlehong could be described as one of the worst hospitals in South Africa.

This week an Alberton family claimed they were, to their horror, confronted with unprecedented unprofessionalism by nurses, screaming patients, filthy wards and the realisation that their relative might very well die there.

Daniel Hein, 43, suffered a severe stroke on September 22. He pressed his panic button for help. When the guard arrived he loaded Hein into his car and drove to Natalspruit Hospital. But that is where the care ended.

From there, the family experienced a “comedy” of unacceptable errors. Hein was seen by a doctor only at 6pm the day after being admitted to casualty – 24 hours after arriving at the hospital, they said. He was then admitted, underwent a CT scan and was examined by a doctor.

That was the last time he received any medical attention from a doctor until seven days later, according to his family.

Relatives described the conditions Hein was placed in as he “recovered” from his stroke as “horrendous and intolerable”.

“The chaos starts even before you enter the hospital. There is no parking. We’re all there to see our loved ones. We cause a traffic jam outside. Then the ambulances can’t get in,” said one relative.

“As you enter the hospital, that horrid stench of dirt and urine hits you. It gets worse as you go deeper into the building. We have to walk up several flights of stairs to get to Daniel. There are wards on every floor. Outside the wards and in the stairwells are piles and piles of stinking bin bags, with medical waste and rubbish inside them. Every day that we went, there were more and more bags.

“Everywhere you look there is paint peeling and rising damp on the walls. There is water everywhere. You can see the plumbing. Normally plumbing is on the inside of the wall. The pipes are visible, rusty and leaking. Puddles of water, all over – we are walking in it. We don’t know where it comes from.”

In the ward where Hein lay, the right side of his body completely lame, there were bloodied and dirty sheets. Water leaking from two broken sinks surrounded Hein’s and other patients’ beds and the plug next to his bed was burnt out and live.

Patients’ families were desperately trying to get feedback from nurses about their relatives’ condition but they were “shooed” out of a tiny room while care workers chatted and drank tea.

“We were so appalled by the state of the ward and spoke to other patients. One man with TB begged for some water because he said nobody there gave him anything. The nurses come in the mornings and give him a stainless steel bowl of cold water and tell him to bath. The man can’t even move.”

According to the relative, there was also a patient lying on the floor on only a mattress. But in the bathroom there was a perfectly good bed.

Another man, from Germiston, who had also suffered a stroke, had been there for a week before Hein arrived.

“We had a look at his file too. There was nothing except for the day he was admitted. There is just a white blank page inside. But no observations.”

With no care, no food and the bedding unchanged, Hein’s relatives started to pay the nurses to take care of him. They thought it was the only way he would be looked after. But not even money changed the “pathetic” attitudes of the caregivers.

After numerous enquiries by the Saturday Star to the Gauteng Health Department, they replied that Hein had in fact been examined by doctors every day since he had been admitted. They said he was “currently receiving rehabilitation”. This, the family, said, was a lie.

Responding to questions about the building, they said the facility was old and in frequent need of maintenance, especially of its plumbing, wiring and infrastructure.

“The department has identified staff attitude as a matter that needs to be improved. Disciplinary action is taken when specific allegations are brought against a named nurse.”

* Hein’s family had a meeting with the hospital’s management on Thursday. He was moved to another ward and staff apologised for his poor treatment.

Saturday Star