1117 unidentified bodies in Gauteng mortuaries

1117 out of 17940 bodies in Gauteng’s 10 forensic pathology mortuaries were unidentified in the last financial year which ran from April 2018 to March 2019.

This information has been revealed by Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku in a written reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.

An additional 18 bodies were identified but not claimed by family.

This is a vast human tragedy that deserves higher attention.

The largest number of unidentified bodies was at the Johannesburg mortuary (360), followed by Germiston (115), Roodepoort (107), Diepkloof (106) and Springs (105).

Unidentified bodies were as follows at other mortuaries:

Garankuwa 73
Pretoria 71
Heidelberg 18
Bronkhorstspruit 16
Carletonville 10

Most of the deaths are due to crime and road accidents. It is tragic that many families do not know the fate of their loved ones because they have been buried anonymously after suffering a violent death.

Some of the 9 Life Esidimeni patients who are still missing may have suffered this fate.

I have been asking questions on unidentified bodies for many years and the number has risen alarmingly, with a poor response by the Department, which has been struggling since 2006 to develop an internet system that will assist in people identifying bodies.

Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu promised that this internet site would be running in 2016.

Masuku’s response is that ‘the functionality of the internet site will be possible once the mortuary information system is set, which is anticipated for the end of October 2019.’ The internet site ‘is contemplated to be operational at the beginning of 2020/21 financial year.’

I hope that this promise is kept so that bodies can be identified on the internet, rather than relatives going to each mortuary, which is traumatic and time-consuming.

85 000 patients treated at Bara hospital casualty

The casualty department at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital treated 84 846 patients last year, which is about 7000 patients a month.

These shocking figures are revealed by Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku in a written reply to my questions in the Legislature.

The breakdown of cases is as follows:

  • Trauma 25 674
  • Surgery 14 232
  • Orthopaedics 16 668
  • Medical 28 284

There were 22 238 cases treated for violence and road accidents, broken down as follows:

  • Gunshots 1033
  • Stabbing 3276
  • Road accidents 4406
  • Burns 1605
  • Assaults 4238
  • Other injuries 7677

There were also 3597 psychiatric cases, 1298 cases of organophosphate poisoning, and 45 suicides by hanging.

These terrible figures are comparable to the injuries in a war zone. Gunshot injuries have gone up from 949 in 2017 to 1033 in 2018, and stabbing wounds from 3235 in 2017 to 3276 last year.

This curse of violence in our society is often fueled by alcohol.

A small sign of hope is that assault injuries at the hospital went down from 5052 in 2017 to 4238 in 2018, and road accident victims down from 4637 to 4406.

Effective action to bring down crime and road accidents would take a lot of strain off this hospital’s casualty ward, which must be one of the busiest in the world.

2500 patients wait for surgery at Steve Biko hospital

2500 patients are on the waiting lists for surgery at the Steve Biko Hospital, some of whom will wait up to two years for an operation.

This is revealed by Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku in a written reply to my question in the Gauteng Legislature.

The worst wait is in Orthopaedics, where 600 patients will wait from 18 months to two years for a hip or knee operation.

Waiting time for Cardiothoracic surgery is two weeks, and General Surgery between 8 and 12 months.

According to Masuku, the reasons for long waiting lists include the following:

  • shortage of theatre trained nurses limits the number of theatres that can operate per day
  • shortage of ICU trained nurses limits the number of post-operative ICU beds
  • the high number of serious trauma cases affects planned elective surgical operations
  • budgetary constraints
  • patient referrals who should have been operated on at other hospitals

Surgery cases are also increasing because of an aging population and high trauma levels in society.

The real waiting times are actually longer than these official figures because patients can wait many months to see a specialist to put them on the waiting list.

More resources and better management is needed to cut surgery waiting times that cause much distress to patients.

R650m irregular Gauteng hospital security contracts extended for three years

Irregular Gauteng hospital security contracts worth R650 million a year that were awarded in 2014 have been extended on a month by month basis for three years.

This was revealed by Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku in a written reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.

The security contracts were awarded in October 2014 for a two year period, but instead of advertising for new contracts to start in October 2016 the old contracts have been extended every month since then.

This is despite the fact that a forensic audit found irregularities and criminal charges were laid against the Chairperson of the Bid Evaluation Committee that awarded the contracts. Furthermore, the Auditor-General last year criticized the renewed contracts as irregular expenditure.

Another irregularity is that according to Treasury regulations extended contracts should not increase in price by more than 15%, but this has been breached.

According to Masuku, the extension of the contracts was because they were “for non-negotiable goods and services and were extended in order not to disrupt nor compromise patient care and ongoing patient services.”

This is a weak excuse as there are lots of security companies and it is easy to put out new security tenders.

The Department’s security costs have more than doubled in the last five years and I suspect that there is gross overcharging and the contracts were allowed to continue because of corruption.

New security contracts should be awarded in an open process that ensures competence and best value for money.

4 out of 8 MRI machines broken in Gauteng state hospitals

Four of the eight Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines in Gauteng public hospitals are broken, leading to waiting times as long as 9 months for the diagnosis of hundreds of patients.

This is revealed in a written reply by Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.

The Chris Hani Baragwanath and George Mukhari hospitals each have two MRI machines, but can only rely on one machine as the other ones are broken.

The MRI machine at the Helen Joseph Hospital has been broken since March this year, and Steve Biko’s MRI machine broke down a month ago.

Kalafong hospital has a functioning MRI machine, and the sole MRI at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital is working but is very old and needs to be replaced urgently.

The worst situation is at Chris Hani Baragwanath where 607 patients are waiting 9 months for a MRI scan.

The situation at other hospitals is as follows:

  • Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg – 761 patients waiting for 7 months;
  • George Mukhari – 298 adult patients and 120 children waiting for 2 to 3 months;
  • Helen Joseph – current waiting time not given for 120 patients;
  • Kalafong Hospital – 40-50 patients wait between 5 days and two weeks; and
  • Steve Biko – 200 patients wait from 2 to 4 months.

MRI scans are a key diagnostic tool in modern medicine, but broken machines are causing extra suffering and life-threatening delays especially for cancer patients.

Speedy repairs and purchase of new equipment is vital for the effective functioning of our hospitals.

Frequently broken machines are another area of weakness that raises questions about government’s ability to implement its ambitious NHI plans.

DA welcomes health intervention by Human Rights Commission

The Democratic Alliance appreciates and welcomes the intervention by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) which visited the Mamelodi Hospital yesterday following the shocking abuse of 76-year-old Martha Marais who was tied to a bench there for more than eight hours.

I am concerned by their finding of severe staff shortages and overcrowding which leads to poor service and low morale.

The lack of a full-time CEO aggravates the problems at the hospital.

I have also received many complaints of corruption at this hospital, including shoddy building work.

The Gauteng Health Department has failed to spend its full capital budget for many years despite the huge backlogs for maintenance and expansion of facilities.

Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku must be ruthless in rooting out corruption and he should ensure that competent personnel are put in key positions.

There is no time for half-measures and retention of incompetent comrades, otherwise more tragic health incidents will continue to occur.

The SAHRC’s recommendations should be implemented as soon as possible.