Broken MRI machine is another blow for patients at Steve Biko hospital

Patient care at the Steve Biko hospital is suffering as the MRI machine has been broken for nearly a month.

It’s another blow for patients after non-urgent surgery was recently cancelled for more than a week because of broken air-conditioners in the operating theatre.

The use of an MRI machine is essential in the diagnosis of certain cancers, as well as in giving a clearer picture of injuries to soft tissues, joints and internal organs.

The MRI at Steve Biko is 16 years old and is no longer on a service plan as it should already have been replaced.

It broke in August this year because of cable theft and was then fixed, but the unstable power supply from load-shedding has been blamed for another breakdown in mid-September.

Usually, this machine is used for about 10 patients a day, so more than 150 patients have not been properly diagnosed as the only alternative MRI is at the Kalafong hospital.

This latest breakdown shows the need for pre-planning to purchase new machines when required and proper servicing for existing machines.

It’s another failure by the corrupt and dysfunctional Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development.

The DA proposes that authority should be devolved to the CEOs of major hospitals like Steve Biko to ensure proper maintenance of machinery and purchase new machines when necessary.

Surgeons operate in dangerous heat as aircon broken at Charlotte Maxeke hospital

Surgeons are operating in dangerously high heat in the theatres at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital (CMJH) as the air-conditioning broke down this week.

This is the second major hospital to experience air-conditioning failure in the recent hot weather as the chillers at the Steve Biko Hospital broke last week.

It is risky to operate in high temperatures as it increases the risk of infection. Still, surgeons are reluctant to cancel operations at CMJH as there are long surgery waiting lists.

There needs to be a thorough overhaul of maintenance at our public hospitals, which are poorly served by the notoriously corrupt and incompetent Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development.

Major hospitals like CMJH and Steve Biko should be able to do their own maintenance and choose decent contractors who can do the job.

Devolving maintenance and minor capital works would also help with challenges like the water shortages experienced by the Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa hospitals.

Meanwhile, the primary victims are patients whose operations are cancelled and staff who are stressed by the poor conditions under which they work.

Patients suffer as aircon failure cancels ops at Steve Biko hospital

Patients at the Steve Biko Hospital are suffering as all non-urgent operations have been cancelled after air-conditioning at the theatres broke down on Wednesday last week.

With the hot weather experienced lately, the risk of infection is too high to do surgery without air-conditioning as this can lead to infection.

I have received complaints about patients who have been in the hospital for more than month who are waiting for their surgery.

It is yet another maintenance failure by the Department of Infrastructure Development (DID), which keeps appointing incompetent contractors who can’t do the job.

In this case, the first contractor couldn’t fix the chillers, and a new contractor had to be appointed yesterday. The hospital hopes that the chillers can be fixed by Friday this week.

This hospital has also suffered from broken lifts which disrupted surgery as patients could not be transported between floors.

The DA has long proposed that maintenance be devolved to major hospitals like Steve Biko which can do a better job than the dysfunctional and corrupt DID.

Meanwhile, surgeons stand idle and the surgery waiting lists get longer, while patients suffer in wards instead of being discharged after their surgery.

No water at Steve Biko Hospital

Steve Biko Hospital has been without water for two days, causing huge disruption to staff and patients.

It appears that the problem is internal, due to years of poor maintenance on the pipes.

Water tankers have been sent to the hospital, but toilets are blocked and sick patients from higher floors have to go down to lower floors for their ablutions.

This situation is unacceptable as hygiene is severely affected and the risk of infection increases.

The hospital was built quite recently as it opened in 2006, so it is inexcusable that building faults keep recurring, including broken lifts.

The Gauteng Health Department needs to urgently improve maintenance and the safety of hospitals, otherwise patients and staff will continue to suffer from defects which can escalate disastrously, as we have seen with the recent fire at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital.

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Why are there inadequate beds for Covid-19 in Tshwane?

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has suggested that Covid-19 patients at the overcrowded Steve Biko Hospital in Tshwane can be sent to the NASREC field hospital in the south of Johannesburg.

This highlights the dismal failure to complete the new beds for Covid-19 cases in the Tshwane district that Premier David Makhura promised last year.

Instead of new beds at central hospitals like Kalafong and Mamelodi, the plan was to have 300 high care beds at Jubilee Hospital, 300 high care beds at George Mukhari Hospital, and 150 beds at the Bronkhorstspruit Hospital.

The beds at Jubilee and George Mukhari were supposed to be completed by 30 November last year, and those at Bronkhorstspruit by 15 December.

The reality is that only 95 of the 300 beds at Jubilee have the staff and equipment for Covid-19 patients, none of the extra beds at George Mukhari can be used because of staff and equipment shortages, and no beds are ready at Bronkhorstspruit.

This is why emergency tents had to be erected in the parking lot of Steve Biko Hospital.

Across the province 1100 bed spaces constructed using Alternative Building Technology still have to be delivered. This is according to a report by the Gauteng Health Department which also identified staffing as a major bottleneck and a shortage of health furniture.

The Tshwane district has been particularly hard hit by the second wave of Covid-19 infections and accountability is needed for the poor preparation to treat local patients who should not have to be sent to beds in another city.

Broken theatres delay cardiac ops at Steve Biko Hospital

Cardiac patients at the Steve Biko Hospital are waiting for weeks for surgery due to only 4 out of 11 theatres being functional.

It is unclear why so many theatres are unable to be used but the waiting time is three weeks for a simple angiogram procedure.

Both doctors and patients are frustrated by the delays in doing essential heart surgery. Some of the patients have spent weeks at the cardiac ward waiting for their operations.

This follows a problem of broken lifts at the hospital in September which was greatly inconvenient for sick people.

Broken machinery is unfortunately a common problem in state hospitals in Gauteng because of poor maintenance.

Last month more than 100 operations were cancelled at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital because of broken air-conditioning.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to massive surgery backlogs that need to be cut as soon as possible, but this can only be done if all machinery is well-maintained and functional.

170 ops cancelled at Steve Biko Hospital because of Covid-19

Steve Biko Hospital has had to cancel 170 non-emergency operations since the Covid-19 lockdown began in March this year, which has resulted in much suffering for patients who may have waited years for their surgery.

These figures are revealed by acting Gauteng Health MEC Jacob Mamabolo in a written reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.

The breakdown of the cancelled operations is as follows:

General surgery – 111

Orthopedics – 26

Paediatrics – 15

Gynaecology – 8

According to Mamabolo “The hospital is continuing with semi-elective cases and as from the 15th June 2020 out of the 21 theaters in the hospital only ten will be operational; six for urgent elective cases and four for emergency. This is because of pressure related to increase in trauma emergencies and other alcohol-related emergencies accompanied by a rise in number of Covid-19 cases since Level 3 Lockdown.”

Mamabolo says that “the impact on the patient is that their illness may complicate and may experience more discomfort from their illness.”

I hope that elective surgery resumes as soon as possible as waiting lists are already long, particularly for knee and hip operations where some patients have waited for more than two years. Extra measures should be taken after the Covid-19 crisis has passed to reduce the alarming surgery backlog by working after-hours and using private hospitals as well for state patients.

Cancer treatment in Gauteng continues despite Covid-19

Cancer treatment is continuing at the Steve Biko and Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg hospitals despite the Covid-19 pandemic, with few operations deferred or cancelled.

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

Masuku says that no cancer surgery has been cancelled at Steve Biko Hospital since the lockdown was imposed in March, and 16 operations for cancer were delayed at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital (CMJH) because of a reduction in theatre lists.

Both hospitals have not cancelled any chemotherapy appointments.

I am relieved that cancer treatment is largely continuing as delay would be life-threatening in many cases.

I am concerned, however, whether there will be enough ICU beds for cancer surgery when the Covid-19 cases surge and peak in Gauteng.

Another concern is the increasingly long wait for prostate cancer treatment at CMJH which is now five years. This has worsened from last year when there were 400 prostate cancer patients waiting for three years.

We need to ensure that cancer treatment is not compromised in life-threatening cases throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

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.

Early morning queues at Steve Biko hospital

Long queues of patients wait outside the Steve Biko Hospital in Pretoria from very early in the morning to ensure they will see a doctor or get their medicines.

I visited the hospital this morning at 4 am with my colleague Alan Fuchs MPL to assess this situation and what can be done to fix it.

We spoke to patients who told us that they needed to be early otherwise they would not be able to see a doctor and would have to come back the next day.

In one case an elderly man had been there from 12 pm the previous day! Others had arrived from 8pm in the evening.

People park outside in the street and can only enter the parking lot at 4 am. The parking lot fills up quickly and is totally inadequate.

I counted about 300 people when the doors to the hospital were opened at 6 am.

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Other problems include poor security and allegations of payment to jump the queue.

The hospital’s official figure for average time of entry every morning is 3.10 am at the main entrance.

Official business hours are 07h00 till 16h00 for Pharmacy and Outpatient services.

I really felt sorry for sick and elderly people waiting long hours in the bitter cold.

The hospital is grossly overloaded with patients and needs more resources and better organization to cut down the queues and waiting times.

It would also help to upgrade other hospitals and clinics to take the strain off Steve Biko Hospital.

Security should be upgraded and the parking lot expanded as soon as possible.

Patients should be able to pick up chronic medicine from facilities closer to where they live.

I will be asking questions in the Gauteng Legislature on this matter and will put pressure on the new Health MEC Bandile Masuku to alleviate this unacceptable situation for many thousands of sick people.