Broken machines and shortages vex Baragwanath Hospital

In a "last resort" to improve working conditions and consequently the quality of care they give to patients, eight doctors from Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto approached the Mail & Guardian in October with a list of problems they were experiencing at the facility.

Broken equipment, medication stock-outs and a lack of resources to deal with the enormous patient load were some of their concerns (published on October 25 2013), which were either ignored or treated with a lack of urgency by hospital management.

But their complaints seem to have fallen on deaf ears – hospital management has done almost nothing about their working conditions.

"In the two months since the story was published things have actually worsened," complained one of the doctors.

Broken equipment
One of the biggest issues raised by the doctors, which had dire implications for patients, was that broken equipment took months to get fixed if fixed at all.


A broken x-ray machine resulted in many botched operations in the orthopaedics department that had to be redone.

But, since the publication of the M&G story, the hospital has experienced more equipment break-downs.

"We have two CT scanners [computerised tomography scanners, which take detailed x-ray images of internal structures in the body and can be used to diagnose many conditions] and one broke about a month ago and it still hasn't been fixed," another doctor said.

"I spoke to one of the radiologists, who said the reason it hasn't been fixed is because the previous repair bills haven't been paid and the company refuses to help until they get their money," he said.

Gauteng health department spokesperson Simon Zwane said: "I know that hospital management is attending to the issue to get that working but there is still the other one, which is operational."

But doctors say that, because of the extra load, the only working scanner is also "starting to give problems".

Long wait
According to doctors, even urgent cases aren't being attended to because there are too many patients for one scanner.

"I had a patient who came in yesterday urinating a lot of blood. Today he is still only number 26 on the list and we can't do anything until we find the cause of the blood – and for that we need to do this scan," said one doctor.

He said the urgency of this patient's case means that a scan should have been done immediately after he was admitted.

Another concern raised was that, at Lillian Ngoyi Clinic, right next to the hospital, there was no working electrocardiogram machine, which measures the heart's activity and can detect a heart attack, an enlarged heart or heart failure, as well as many other conditions.

According to Zwane, the electronic functioning of the machine was in order and that "staff broke the lid during use".

He said that the hospital had asked for a technician to replace the lid soon.

One M&G Online reader, posting anonymously, commented: "I spent three years at Bara, dealing with the same issues. Basic levels of hygiene and care were completely ignored by a fat, lazy chief executive who sat in her ivory office tower with beautiful furnishings while our poor patients languished in unsanitary conditions. There was even a time when Panado was out of stock at the pharmacy! I couldn't deal with the working conditions, the inability to serve these poor people who deserved so much more."

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