Bed Shortage at Helderberg Hospital - Photo: Sipokazi Fokazi

Cape Town -

Patients at Helderberg Hospital claim that a shortage of beds means they more often than not have to sleep on hard chairs instead of on beds.

Some in the hospital’s emergency unit told the Cape Argus that they had no choice but to sleep on the floor or hard benches as the hospital overflowed almost every day. They say going back home meant losing their spot on the waiting list for beds.

Late last week, the emergency unit and all the wards were full, with some patients sleeping on stretchers in the passage while others snoozed on mattresses and blankets along the wall.

Mark van der Heever, spokesman for the provincial Department of Health, acknowledged that the 162-bed hospital had, in recent weeks, experienced “tremendous pressure” as the number of patients increased.

The emergency unit saw about 114 patients a day – nearly 50 percent more than the usual numbers.

“This tremendous pressure has challenged the hospital and the staff are stretched to be able to deal with the numbers,” he said.

Among those who waited for hours at the hospital was Martie van Wyk, 70, of Strand. She waited for eight hours at the hospital, and left without seeing a doctor, Van Wyk said.

She had gone to the hospital for a lower back problem. “It was chaotic… there were not enough doctors.

“People were sitting there the whole day without being seen. Staff were not very friendly… We were just told to be patient because there were no doctors. I decided to leave the hospital when I saw staff covering CCTV cameras with a tape… I didn’t know what worse could happen so I left.”

But Van der Heever said the cameras were covered as they were being installed, and the tape had since been removed.

Another patient, who had been diagnosed with gall stones and admitted, was in agony following a night spent on a chair. “I wanted to go home just so that I could sleep in my own comfortable bed, but I was told that if I leave I will lose my spot and will have to queue afresh.”

Roxanne Carolous of Macassar, who had brought her wheelchair-bound grandfather, Thomas Brooks, 84, to the hospital, was anxious about his possible admission.

“My grandfather is really sick and dehydrated from diarrhoea, but I hope that they don’t admit him. Where will he sleep if he is admitted?”

Carolous criticised hospital management, saying the shortage of beds was getting worse every year.


Van der Heever said the hospital’s emergency unit was among the busiest in the province, confirming the urgent need to refurbish it. “A complete replacement of the hospital is in the planning schedule for new hospitals.”

Van der Heever said the province’s increasing population was a major contributing factor to the increasing patient load, as well as the burden of lifestyle diseases.

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Cape Argus