South Africa: Hospital in Dire Straits After Eastern Cape Health Department Fails to Pay Contractors

25 February 2020

Refurbishment ground to a halt at the hospital when the department ran out of money. Union threatens to down tools

A R3.9-million project to refurbish the primary health care facility at Laetitia Bam Day Hospital in KwaNobuhle, Uitenhage, the biggest local clinic in the area, ground to a halt at the end of January.

Hundreds of patients are now being treated in about a dozen small wooden cubicles.

Refurbishment started in November under a tender won by Ikhono Projects. It was meant to take three months.

Four small businesses based in ward 44 are subcontractors, doing painting and plastering and installing security gates, new blinds, doors, and a ceiling. Their contracts vary from R220,000 to R250,000. Each employs about ten workers.

But Ikhono Projects and the businesses say they have not been paid by the Eastern Cape Department of Health since the project started.

A nurse, who did not wish to be identified, said: "Even our boardroom has been separated with wooden structures to form the wards. We eat outside the hospital during lunch because there is absolutely no space ... There is not a single fan and it's difficult to breath ... TB and other patients queue in the same waiting room ... Even the doctor sees patients in the switchboard room because renovations are taking place in his consulting room."

"These are shacks," said Fikile Mama, an elderly patient. "I tried to lean on that shaking wooden structure but it rattled so I sat up again, away from it."

Spokesperson for the provincial heath department Sizwe Kupelo said: "Not a single company has been paid by the department because there is no more money. We will share facts about this with NEHAWU [National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union] because it is wrong to threaten the department with tools down".

He said the project would continue in April, in the next financial year.

"We cannot wait for April," said shop steward chairperson at the hospital, Lindile Cakwebe, of NEHAWU, whose members include nurses, clerks, porters, ambulance drivers and cleaners.

"We have told hospital management and the clinic committee to put on record that as NEHAWU, we are not going to wait for April ... It's either we are going to stop working or they do whatever they can to ensure that we are all safe and the patients are safe too," said Cakwebe.

Thembisile Nogampula, general secretary of sub-district B Health forum in Nelson Mandela Bay said: "It's hard to work under these circumstances. There is no infection control or fans. It becomes worse during sunny days."

He said there were no working x-ray facilities at the other five clinics in KwaNobuhle, which include Silvertown, Mabandla, Nomangesi, Jayiya, Edameni and Isolomzi. People were sent to Laetitia, but now its x-ray room is under renovation. Patients are therefore being referred to Uitenhage Provincial Hospital and Rosedale Clinic. They have to find their own transport.

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