Clean linen shortages have been experienced by 23 out of 34 Gauteng public hospitals since January last year, disrupting surgery and increasing the risk of infection for patients in wards.
This is revealed by Gauteng Health MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko in a written reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.
Helen Joseph Hospital was particularly hard hit, with shortages of scrubs, gowns, drapes, sheets, pyjamas and nightdresses, towels, blankets and pillow cases. These shortages occurred multiple times for a total period of 42 days, and caused 81 operations to be cancelled.
Chris Hani Hospital had various shortages of clean linen, including draw sheets, blankets and pyjamas. Theatre operations were hampered and 9 operations were cancelled.
At Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital there were intermittent shortages of theatre gloves and towels, sheets, blankets and gowns for a total period of 12 weeks.
Sporadic linen shortages at the George Mukhari Hospital caused about 32 operations to be cancelled, and they sometimes had to borrow linen from other hospitals.
Many hospitals have linen shortages because of production problems at the Dunswart and Masakhane provincial laundries which they are obliged to use. These include the Tembisa, Pholosong, George Mukhari, Kalafong, Sebokeng, Tambo Memorial and Far East Rand hospitals.
The Mamelodi hospital has given up on the Masakhane laundry and only uses private laundries.
Other hospitals also use private laundries but some claim this is forbidden by the Gauteng Health Department.
Concern was expressed by hospitals about the impact on infection control. Kopanong hospital, for instance, notes that relatives bring in blankets for patients.
It is unclear why hospitals are largely forced to use the poorly managed and expensive provincial laundries where machinery constantly breaks down.
The continued operation of these laundries should be reviewed as laundry shortages are a constant hassle in public hospitals.
Hospital managers should be free to make the most cost-efficient arrangements with reliable suppliers so that optimal patient care is provided.