Addington Hospital in Durban. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Addington Hospital in Durban. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Dr Noxolo Mbadi cut an exhausted figure as she stood in the paediatric unit of Addington Hospital on Thursday, struggling to hold back tears as she laid bare the details of critical staff and equipment shortages at the public hospital.

"We need eight doctors to render services to the people. We simply do not have enough‚" Mbadi said.

"We have had only four medical officers since April … that is why two doctors are saying they have had enough and are going to resign. They are overwhelmed and they are exhausted."

She was speaking to members of Parliament’s select committee on social services during an oversight visit to the hospital on Thursday. The committee was in KwaZulu-Natal this week to conduct oversight visits at various departmental projects and facilities.

The visit to Addington‚ one of the largest government hospitals in Durban‚ comes amid an oncology crisis that‚ among other things‚ has resulted in machines at state hospitals not functioning because of a lack of maintenance and an exodus of specialists‚ which has resulted in just two oncologists being employed by the state — and both of them in Pietermaritzburg.

Mbadi painted a grim picture underpinned by unqualified staff‚ unfilled posts and untenable working conditions.

"Our nurses are also very short-staffed. We only have one neonatal-trained nurse and we need people who have the appropriate qualification to be able to look after our patients‚" she said.

"We see 1‚500 patients every month in our outpatient department and that is run completely by sessional doctors because we cannot staff it ourselves."

Mbadi said the situation was dire.

"The situation today: One doctor had a needle-stick injury and is on antiretroviral medication so she’s not at work. One is post-call so we only have one medical officer available to staff the unit. We have our consultant here today but she is responsible for 32 patients on her own. We cannot carry on‚" she said.

The hospital’s CEO‚ Dr Mthetheleli Ndlangisa‚ was standing alongside her as she spoke — and didn’t dispute any of her statements.

Committee chairperson Cathy Dlamini said the state of the hospital depressed her.

"Oncology is not the only problem here. I am depressed by this place. The problem is the unacceptable shortage of staff and the situation is critical. The province is challenged by budget but my take is that you cannot have a situation where the Department of Health has to cut back on staff‚ especially clinical staff‚" Dlamini said.

She said she was also concerned that patients were being transferred to other health facilities‚ when this didn’t actually help the situation.

"We are transferring a problem by reducing beds [at Addington]. People are being referred to other regional hospitals because they cannot be accommodated here. This is not solving anything‚" she said.

According to details provided in the SA Health Review 2017 in mid-August‚ government’s spending per person on health had decreased‚ and that doctors and nurses posts were being frozen.

The admission that most "most provinces have imposed some form of restrictions in terms of filling vacant posts" is in stark contrast to denials earlier this year by the health minister that there were frozen posts. The paper uses figures to explain the dire financial situation and includes the admission that doctors and nurses can only be hired with a premier’s permission and provincial treasuries’ sign-off.

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