Patients and staff at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital have been struggling with only one lift operating.

PATIENTS and staff at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital have been forced to use just one of the hospital’s 19 lifts for the past three weeks, with the rest not functioning.

Yesterday staff, patients and members of the public said some procedures which required transportation from one floor to the other had been put on hold as the working lift was always congested.

Staff said that while some critical equipment could be moved, the bigger, state-of-the art scanners and machinery could not. “The brain, spine and other such equipment is stationary,” a nurse said.

He said patients were told to wait as the department sorted out the problem, but that meant serious delays in diagnosis and treatment.

“Unless there are enough staff, and we can muscle out the ever-increasing number of patients and their relatives, we keep certain patients away from where they can get infected, injured or traumatised,” he said.

The hospital has 832 beds, 53 ICU beds, 21 high care beds and several specialist departments, which requires the use of the lifts to move between floors.

There was often chaos as patients who needed urgent treatment rushed for the remaining lift, another staffer said. “When a big group of people is waiting to use the lift, tempers get out of control if we ask to be given a way through.”

Patients visiting the hospital complained that the unavailability of lifts made it difficult to access services.

One visitor said he had to accompany his elderly sister to get X-rays, and had to hold her arm and help her make her way up and down the stairs countless times.

He said: “This problem is not new; these lifts have not been working for three weeks and no one is saying when they will be fixed. My sister managed to use the lift when she brought her wheelchair as they gave preference to those using wheelchairs and crutches.”

Another patient said: “All patients and doctors have to use one lift and sometimes it gets frustrating.” She added that at one point a sick child almost slid off a hospital bed as everyone jostled to get into the lift, which was being used to transport her from one floor to another.

Staff at the hospital said it was believed the lifts would only be attended to in two weeks' time.

A 64-year-old patient said she had brought along her nephew to find out where she had to go for simple assistance with her medical file, and she waited for hours on the ground floor as she could not brave the stairs.

“You will find that the doctor or specialist you need to see is on one floor, while X-rays and scans are on a different floor. Waiting for the lift is a nightmare because people get quite emotional,” she said.

When the Pretoria News visited the hospital, patients were huddled at the door of the only working lift on the ground floor.

At one point a heated argument broke out between a staff member and a medical student about who was to access the lifts first - between staff and patients.

The staff member asked the student to go through the memorandum of the hospital, which stipulated that patients were to access the lifts first.

Simphiwe Gada, provincial chairperson for the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa, said lifts provided a crucial service to the hospital and should not have been left unattended for so long.

Gada said considering how numerous patients had to be transported from wards to have X-rays and additional tests conducted, the lack of working lifts could result in a delay of diagnosis.

He said: “Lifts talk to the battling infrastructure of the hospital. If they’re not working, porters and other staff may become over-worked as a result, trying to help patients up stairs. This could lead to serious injuries should they fall.”

Spokesperson for the Gauteng Department of Health Prince Hamnca said the lifts had reportedly been having problems on and off since September 3.

“A contactor is on site to repair the lifts and has already performed risk assessments. Some of the lifts are already in working condition. The department is hoping to repair the outstanding lifts in earnest,” he said. “We apologise to the public for the inconvenience.”