Cape Town 120503- MEC for health Theuns Botha was on a suprised visit at Eerste River hospital.Picture Cindy waxa.Reporter Sipokazi/Argus

The Western Cape Provincial Department of Health says it wants to start afresh and improve the quality of service at Eerste River Hospital following damning media reports that patients were dying of avoidable diseases due to poor quality of care at the facility.

During a “surprise” visit to the hospital, Health MEC Theuns Botha committed the management of the hospital to a better level of service, saying it would move from an “artificial reputation” created by previous managers, which sometimes saw patients turned away or refused access to the hospital in order to keep the numbers low.

Botha told journalists that the department had reached a settlement with the hospital’s suspended chief executive officer, Dr Timothy Visser, and now that the disciplinary action was over, the department would pay attention to improving the service at the hospital.

The hospital came under fire following claims by a Cape Town doctor who alleged patients were dying of avoidable illnesses and were sleeping on the floor, while others with infectious diseases shared space with general patients.

The former head of the hospital’s trauma unit, who has taken the department to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration for unfair dismissal, said he had been targeted by management after he raised questions about a lack of clinical governance.

He left the hospital in August after his contract was terminated when it was deemed “irregular” following the translation of certain posts into specialist ones in line with the Occupation Specific Dispensation.

The department said the doctor’s contract was irregular as he had been employed by Visser – his brother – who was the hospital CEO at the time. He had been in the post for 18 months.

On Thursday, Botha met managers before taking a brief tour. There were no long queues or complaining patients, and staff diligently attended to their patients while Botha and hospital management took journalists to various parts of the hospital.

Botha spoke highly of the current management, commending them for improving bed occupancy and managing increasing patient numbers.

He also admitted for the first time that the department had not publicly communicated the problems at the hospital well enough. The department had somehow been restricted by a disciplinary process between the department and Visser. But now that a settlement had been reached with Visser, there was a need for improved communication about problems at the hospital. He declined to disclose details of the settlement or how much it has cost the department, saying he was bound by a confidentiality clause.

Dr Giovanni Perez, director of health services for the eastern and Khayelitsha sub districts for the Department of Health, said that with the opening of the new Khayelitsha Hospital, Eerste River Hospital was experiencing some easing up as some patients were closer to the new hospital.

Visser confirmed he had resigned as part of the settlement, “as there were no further prospects for me in the current environment at Eerste River Hospital”.

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Cape Argus