Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

The Western Cape’s biggest hospital is buckling under the demand for its services and is so dilapidated that it needs to be replaced, Parliament heard on Wednesday.

Tygerberg Hospital is an academic hospital in northern Cape Town, and serves patients referred by less-specialised facilities. It was built in 1978 and has such an extensive maintenance backlog it would cost more to fix it than replace it, the Western Cape head of health Beth Engelbrecht told Parliament’s portfolio committee on health.

"Tygerberg Hospital is under severe pressure. The CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) assessed it and said the hospital must be replaced. We have spent R700m on maintenance in recent years and you walk through the hospital and you can’t see it — it is sewerage lines, gas lines and water lines," she said.

It would cost an estimated R10bn to replace the tertiary services component of Tygerberg Hospital alone, said Engelbrecht. "We are motivating with the national department to assist us financially," she said.

Tygerberg’s infrastructure needs were the worst among the province’s central hospitals, but many other facilities needed maintenance and new equipment, she said, noting that the infrastructure backlog was R1bn.

Western Cape health department chief operating officer Keith Cloete told MPs that the demand for emergency orthopaedic surgery at Tygerberg recently rose to more than 100 cases a day, with a knock-on effect on patients who were waiting for elective surgery. Many of the emergency cases were due to violence, he said.

Crime and violence were not only driving up the number of emergency cases across the province, but were also affecting the health department’s ability to render services, he said. The increasing number of attacks on ambulances was giving officials sleepless nights, he said.

"It is getting worse. There is an attack on an ambulance every three days," he said.

He presented data showing that there had been more attacks on ambulances in the five months to May (40) than there had been in the whole of 2017 (36).

The surge in attacks, which included 12 in May alone, was a reflection of society as a whole and therefore beyond the scope of health to tackle on its own, he said.

Engelbrecht said patients’ biggest complaints were about long waiting times, and staff were under "terrible pressure" to meet their needs. Almost a quarter of the complaints the department received from patients related to waiting times, she said.

"We recognise that people wait for services, they wait long, they wait hours. But we really do try to do our best with what we have," she said.