/ 30 June 2021

Public protector’s probes highlight crumbling Eastern Cape hospitals

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Public protector, advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane and her deputy, advocate Kholeka Gcaleka on Wednesday released 17 reports investigating public procurement, corruption, maladministration and the wrongful appointments of staff at various municipalities.  

The reports, according to the chief operating officer at the public protector’s office, Charles Mohalaba, paint a clear picture of corruption and maladministration in municipal offices and government departments around the country.

The reports focus on complaints received by the office that were related to housing, healthcare, home affairs, cadre deployment, whistleblower protection, the appointment of advisers to ministers, and the management of municipal finances.

Regarding allegations of worsening conditions in Eastern Cape hospitals, Mkwebane said she investigated these on an own initiative basis. She said most of the information she used in the initial stages of her investigation came from media reports that detailed the poor state of health facilities in the province.

 Mkhwebane’s investigation started on 4 July 2020.

“We visited certain identified health facilities in the province and conducted site inspections on 4 and 5 August 2020. The inspections entailed indiscriminately interviewing staff members, union representatives and patients,” said Mkhwebane.

Four Eastern Cape hospitals were visited: Uitenhage, Livingstone, Mthatha and Sulenkama hospitals. 

“The investigation revealed that the administration of health by the Eastern Cape department of health [ECDoH] at Sulenkama, Mthatha, Livingstone and Uitenhage hospitals does not accord with the obligations imposed by the constitution and the law,” said Mkhwebane.

At the Livingstone Hospital in Gqeberha, the conditions of which have been documented by the media, “systemic deficiencies” were found.  

These deficiencies included acute staff shortages, crumbling and inadequate physical infrastructure, the shortage of medical equipment or machinery, and an insufficient supply of other resources like personal protective equipment (PPE).

A week ago, the provincial health department vowed that it was going to improve conditions at Livingstone Hospital, which included employing 80 additional staff. 

“The observations and findings were not disputed by the Eastern Cape department of health. The ECDoH failed to ensure appropriate conditions for the enjoyment, delivery and access to adequate, as well as effective, healthcare services for the communities of Sulenkama, Mthatha, Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage,” Mkhwebane said. 

Mkhwebane said the release of the reports into the public domain was a constitutional and a legislative imperative under section 182(5) of the constitution.

“[Some of] these are reports stemming from investigations that we have had to close, owing to reasons such as unsubstantiated allegations, referral to other competent forums or a lack of jurisdiction. The rest of the reports are those in which we have made adverse findings and taken appropriate remedial action,” Mkhwebane said. 

Gcaleka said the investigations found that there were eight hospitals in the Eastern Cape and one in Limpopo that had been given substandard personal protective equipment since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“At some point we found there was substandard PPE delivered to the hospitals, as the medical gowns were unsterilised and they did not fit the staff. [There was also a] shortage of staff and incapacity to address delays of filling specialised positions,” Gcaleka said.

She said this was because of the centralisation of procurement at the provincial government level. 

“These hospitals also had a concerning shortage of nursing and [other] staff dealing with chronic illnesses. Workload for the doctors was found to be too high and, in some instances, they were forced to work extended hours,” said Gcaleka.