Anxious relatives have battled to get through to 25 public hospitals in Gauteng that have had switchboard problems this year, and some hospitals have had persistent phone problems for more than 10 years.
This information is revealed by Gauteng Health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi in a written reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.
The Weskoppies hospital has been worst affected, with intermittent switchboard problems since 2006, and Sterkfontein Hospital has been affected by this since 2012.
Other hospitals have experienced the following phone problems:
Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital – intermittent problems since 2019
Tambo Memorial Hospital – intermittent problems for the past 5 years
Rahima Moosa Hospital – intermittent problems for the past 4 years
Pretoria West Hospital – intermittent problems for the past 4 years
South Rand Hospital – intermittently for the past 3 years
The Pholosong Hospital had no landline phones for 6 weeks this year, and the Bheki Mlangeni Hospital had broken phones for two whole weeks.
Helen Joseph Hospital was cut off for 6 days and Yusuf Dadoo Hospital for 5 days.
Other hospitals had phone problems for a few days or hours, or during loadshedding.
According to Mokgethi, most of the telephone problems are due to outdated or faulty PABX. She says that the affected hospitals reverted to mobile phones and communicated these numbers to patients’ relatives.
I have received many calls from people who tell me they cannot get through to hospitals to find out how their relatives are doing, or to get information for their own medical needs.
It is particularly hard when people are desperate for news about ailing family members, especially during periods when visits were restricted because of the Covid-19 epidemic.
Hospital staff are also frustrated when they can’t use landline phones and have to use their own cellphones, often at their own expense.
I am astounded that the Gauteng Health Department has not been able to do a simple thing like working switchboards at hospitals for so many years.
The department now says they are implementing a new telephone system this year, but it remains to be seen if they finally manage to get this right.
I will be following this matter up to ensure that there is reliable telephone communication at all Gauteng public hospitals.