Close to eight villages in Nxarhuni outside Mdantsane in East London depend on Newlands clinic. But the clinic has only one doctor who comes twice a month.
A clinic committee member who did not want to be named said, "The doctor comes on the first Monday of the month, then skips a week and comes again on Monday."
Community members complained to GroundUp about regular shortages of staff and also a lack of medication.
The registration of patients is done inside a tent. People using the clinic say the tent is not rain proof and that depending on the weather it can be very hot or very cold inside. Prior to the tent, they had to queue outside.
GroundUp visited Newlands clinic to check on the service. The first time was 1 November. It was a hot day and patients were waiting inside the tent.
The clinic manager, a Mr Matshangane, informed them that only one nurse was working that day as two nurses were absent. He said the nurses had not informed him in advance that they would not be coming to work.
A patient, who only identified himself as Duna, told GroundUp that he arrived at the clinic before 7am. He lives 5km away. He said the clinic opened at 8am and clinic staff started seeing people at 9am. It was already 11am and the queue was moving very slowly. Duna was panicking because he needed to fetch his grant money.
"I'm here to take my treatment. I'm not going to see a nurse; I just need to take my treatment. But I have to wait for more than four hours," said Duna.
He said if he left without taking the scheduled treatment, nurses were going to ignore him the next day or serve him last.
Another patient, who did not wish to give her name, said the service at the clinic has been slow for a long time. She said the problem is that nurses start late and stop at 4:30pm.
"I always know that I will spend the whole day [here] because of shortage of staff. It's rare to find all nurses and doctor on the same day," she said.
GroundUp visited a week later on 7 November. It was windy and unbearably cold inside the tent. Once again the manager said there was a shortage of staff. There was also no electricity and no water that day. Patients had to use pit toilets to relieve themselves.
Matshangane said he had a meeting and would not be able to see patients as he usually did when there was a shortage of staff.
Aseza Mali said the clinic was small, but it was central. "People from Cuba, Eluxolweni, New Bright, Chris Hani, Newlands and other areas come here and yet there's always shortage of staff. This clinic helps a lot of communities, but we only get a doctor twice a month. On other days, if you want to see a doctor you have to go to [Cecilia] Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane and you must have transport money," she said.
She said the community had raised the issue with the municipality and asked for another clinic to be built.
The Eastern Cape Department of Health and the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality did not respond to GroundUp.