R380M Free State hospital remains unopened two years after completion

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Photo: Albert Nzula Hospital in Trompsburg. Photo: Christopher Clarke

A R380m Free State town hospital remains unopened more than two years since its completion, while clinics and hospitals in the region remain overstretched and under-resourced.

Groundup quotes Mariette Pittaway, the Democratic Alliance spokesperson for health in the Free State, as saying that the new Albert Nzula Hospital in Trompsburg is “state-of-the-art” and could “assist a lot of people in dire need,” but has become a “white elephant”. “There’s no medical staff, no medical equipment, no patients. Nothing is happening. The hospital was scheduled to open in October 2014, but soon the place is going to start falling apart,” she said in the report.

An official opening ceremony was held at the Albert Nzula Hospital in September 2016, and Free State Premier Ace Magashule had previously announced that the hospital was already “operational” during his state of the province address at University of Free State back in February 2016. But, the report says “when GroundUp visited the hospital premises at the end of November 2016, we were refused entry by a security guard; it was evident from outside that most of the buildings were still not in use, the public parking areas were empty, and some of the hospital entrances were cordoned off with yellow tape.”

A number of infrastructural glitches including problems with the sewerage system initially delayed the hospital’s opening, and more recently there have been issues around filling the requisite staff posts.

The report says when asked when the Albert Nzula hospital will be operational, Free State Department of Health spokesperson Mondli Mvambi replied: “The operationalisation of the hospital will be determined by the filling of some of the critical posts among the 197 critical posts identified for administrative support services and clinical posts.”

While Mvambi would not say how many of the 197 posts currently remain vacant, in October Health MEC Butana Komphela said in a Provincial Legislature meeting that only 77 posts had been advertised. Mvambi also admits that some medical equipment and licences for the new hospital are still outstanding.

However, Mvambi said that a dispensary and basic emergency medical response services are already operational at Albert Nzula Hospital and, the report said, two ambulances were noticed returning to the hospital from a nearby road accident scene.

But, in most instances, local residents are still restricted to the limited resources available at the small Mamello Clinic on the other side of Trompsburg, or have to travel further afield to Diamant District Hospital in Jagersfontein, which is roughly 50kms away. An employee at Diamant Hospital, who asked not to be named for fear of losing her job, says that the hospital is currently having to accommodate patients from nine different communities, and is generally overcrowded and significantly understaffed.

The report says Enoch Moware, acting manager for Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in the Free State, affirms that Jagersfontein is in a “very poor state.” “There’s a lack of doctors, a lack of nurses. The dispensary is closed on weekends. There’s no radiography on weekends. There are many, many such problems,” he says. Moware adds that similar issues are mirrored in most government hospitals across the province. “People in Free State are fed up with the health system,” he says, “many people are dying in our hospitals because they are not being rendered basic services.”

According to the report, Moware said that he had sent a list of questions to the Free State Ministry of Health at the beginning of November concerning numerous complaints about the province’s hospitals that TAC had received from patients; TAC also requested updates on the Albert Nzula Hospital. Moware says the department is yet to respond.

Dr Disie Kleingeld, a local private GP who volunteers his mornings at Mamello Clinic, is quoted in the report as saying that the Albert Nzula Hospital is being pushed “on a political level rather than a practical one.” “It would be more appropriate to improve resources at existing sites. There are not enough medical staff to run a new hospital.”

The Free State experienced an exodus of 177 doctors back in 2015, as the provincial health system fell apart. According to Mark Heywood, executive director of public interest law centre Section27, the state of existing hospitals in Free State remains “extremely bad.” “All we’ve had are negative reports. And instead of cooperation from the Department of Health, what we continue to encounter for the most part are stories of corruption and mismanagement. That’s what we are dealing with.” – 

Groundup report