The hospital’s chief executive, Dr Mathabo Mathebula, has appealed to the public not to pitch up at the hospital for outpatient care during the night, as only emergencies are a 24-hour service.
Mathebula says no ordinary patients will be allowed access to the hospital during the night or early hours of the morning before the hospital is open.
She also urged people to keep to the official referral routes and honour the given appointment dates and times, as resources were allocated accordingly, and not pitch up at just any time of the day or night.
The appeal comes as the hospital struggles with long queues, and patient complaints of waiting all day to be seen or to collect medication.
This has led to many coming earlier, in the hope that once the doors open they can be at the front of the queue.
Mathebula says the issue of long queues is common at health facilities across the country.
“It’s a fact that public hospitals serve 85% of the population, as well as those from foreign countries and, it’s worth noting that Steve Biko, being a central hospital, serves more than one province,” she says.
Steve Biko is a tertiary healthcare institution, rendering specialised and highly specialised services. It is only meant to see patients who have been referred and have an appointment.
“Nevertheless, due to the high burden of diseases, coupled with public patients failing to honour their appointment times, we have long queues,” Mathebula says.
On concerns that have been raised on the quality of health services, she says patients prefer Steve Biko as it has a good reputation.
“Even those who are referred to their nearby hospitals come back to receive services here.”
Last week DA Gauteng shadow health MEC Jack Bloom expressed his concerns over the long queues at the hospital.
This followed a visit by Bloom and party member Alan Fuchs to the facility on Thursday morning to assess the situation and see what could be done to fix it.
When they arrived at 4am there was already a long queue of patients waiting outside the hospital. They spoke to patients who painted a picture of frustration.
“People park outside in the street and can only enter the parking lot at 4am, and the parking lot fills up quickly.”
Bloom said the hospital was grossly overloaded and there was a need for more resources and better organisation to cut down on the queues and waiting times.
Speaking to the Pretoria News yesterday, Bloom said the hospital had always blamed the queues on people who did not honour their appointments, but on Thursday he spoke to people in the queue, and they all said they did have appointments on that day.
“I spoke to the people and they told me of their experiences. They told us that they needed to be early otherwise they would not be able to see a doctor and have to come back the next day.”
He said he had counted no fewer than 300 people waiting in the cold for the hospital to open. Official business hours are 7am to 4pm for pharmacy and outpatient services.
“I really felt sorry for the sick and elderly people waiting long hours in the bitter cold,” Bloom said.
“I think we should do more to upgrade other health facilities in Pretoria to take the burden off Steve Biko Academic Hospital.”
Mathebula, however, insisted patients who did not follow protocol by visiting their local clinics and district hospitals were the main cause of the queues: “They must really only come to us when they have been referred by the lower facilities, this will ease the burden on us and them, and lessen waiting time.”