MASSIVE staff shortages at Nelson Mandela Bay’s floundering clinics are having a knock-on effect at the city’s main state hospitals, as doctors spread themselves thin by treating hordes of patients with minor ailments.
Meanwhile, valuable beds are being taken up by people whose illnesses, if correctly monitored at clinic level, could have been controlled effectively without admission to hospital.
“People are circumventing primary healthcare and swamping hospitals for services they should be getting at clinic level, and very often with conditions which are preventable,” said Daygan Eagar, health researcher at non-profit human rights group Section27, and formerly of Grahamstown’s Public Service Accountability Monitor.
“The situation is far worse than people realise. If things are not functioning in Nelson Mandela Bay, you can be sure they are not functioning elsewhere in the province.”
Eagar warned of an imminent implosion of healthcare which is “more than 10 years in the making”.
“Because of the endemic failure at primary and secondary health institutions, government will not be able to rectify the situation in the short to medium term,” he said.
Patients in the city who stream to hospitals are also battling to find beds.
PE Hospital Complex head Dr Aydin Vehbi said as much as 40% of the patient load at its hospitals – Dora Nginza, Livingstone and PE Provincial – had superficial ailments which should have been treated at clinic level.
“These patients take up a lot of time and also cost a hospital more to treat than they would do at a clinic,” Vehbi said.
Health Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said although the department was under- funded, it tried its best to render a quality health service, but sometimes “the general behaviour of the community” made that difficult.
“It’s always been our concern that people use the down-referral system (referred after hospital operations to clinics for minor surgeries and medication), but they don’t want to utilise the municipal clinics. This is putting a strain on the few doctors and nurses who we have in hospitals.”