Patients in the central corridor of the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital. Picture: DANIEL BORN/THE TIMES
Patients in the central corridor of the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital. Picture: DANIEL BORN/THE TIMES

Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital is referring less complicated medical cases to nearby district hospitals to reduce the time patients have to wait for operations, it announced on Wednesday.

It did not provide details of the surgery backlog.

In June, DA shadow health MEC in Gauteng Jack Bloom highlighted the long wait many of its patients face. He cited figures provided by the hospital’s CEO, Gladys Bogoshi. He said at the time 300 prostate-cancer patients faced a two-year wait for treatment and 50 breast cancer patients could expect a delay of up to six months.

In addition to legitimate demand for its specialist services, Charlotte Maxeke struggles with inappropriate referrals, says Bloom. Primary healthcare clinics and community health centres should ideally refer patients to the appropriate hospitals — district or more specialised, tertiary hospitals. But patients sometimes bypassed primary healthcare facilities to go directly to hospitals, increasing their caseloads.

Bloom welcomed the Gauteng health department’s decision to let Charlotte Maxeke refer less serious cases to district hospitals, provided these facilities had the capacity to provide the care required.

"It’s a step forward, provided they do it properly," he said.

The Gauteng health department’s failure to implement electronic patient records hampered its capacity to manage waiting lists and referrals, he said. As a result, waiting times varied widely between facilities: the waiting list for cataract surgery at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital was six months, but far shorter elsewhere, he said. "The province is flying blind."

The Gauteng health department attributed the long waiting lists for operations at Charlotte Maxeke to its limited number of theatre and intensive-care unit beds. It received a high number of acute trauma cases, and emergency operations had to be prioritised, it said.

The department issued a statement on Tuesday detailing the procedures that various district hospitals had been authorised to provide, but urged patients not to refer themselves there directly.

Bertha Gxowa Hospital has been given the responsibility for foot and ankle surgery, breast, appendicectomy, lumps and bumps, haemorrhoidectomies, abscess drainage and benign gynaecological operations.

Edenvale Hospital is to perform hernia surgery and closure of colostomy, while colonoscopy, colorectal surgery and wound management is to be provided by the Far East Rand Hospital; Leratong Hospital will deal with upper gastro-intestinal tract, endocrine, sarcoma, trauma and burn-care cases; Pholosong Hospital is to mange hernia and breast cases; South Rand Hospital is to do gastro-intestinal tract endoscopy, hernias, abscess drainage, appendectomies, and benign gynaecological operations; and Tambo Memorial Hospital will receive hepato pancreato biliary cases, gatro-intestinal tract endoscopy, trauma and acute care surgery.