Faulty machines leave doctors in the dark

2012-09-16 09:54
Zinhle Mapumulo
Equipment is failing medical staff and patients at public hospitals

Failing technology is forcing staff at South Africa’s public hospitals to try their hands at DIY.

Crippling staff shortages and ­salary disputes in the public sector aren’t helping the situation either.

Just last week, surgeons at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto had to perform a caesarean section using a cellphone for light after the electricity cut out during the operation and the generator failed to start.

There have been scores of other incidents in hospitals across South Africa, including:

» A month ago, Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Joburg admitted it had to cancel up to 100 ­operations a week because of a shortage of equipment, anaesthetists and surgeons;

» In March, the radiation machine at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria broke down and cancer
patients were turned away;

» In June, doctors abandonedpatients at Nelson Mandela ­Academic Hospital in Eastern Cape to go and protest because they had not been paid for almost six months; and

» Limpopo public hospitals ran out of food and drugs in May, forcing doctors to dig deep into their own pockets to feed patients.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi is acutely aware of the problems.

He admitted this week that public healthcare in South Africa was in trouble and said he wondered sometimes whether it could be rectified.

Motsoaledi said: “We need to completely overhaul the public health system, but whether the overhauling will happen ... I wonder sometimes.”

Speaking at an event in Rivonia, northern Joburg, on Wednesday night, Motsoaledi described Gauteng, Limpopo and Eastern Cape as the most problematic provinces when it came to public healthcare.

All three, he said, had one thing in common: a “tendercare system”.

Tendercare, Motsoaledi said, refers to a system in which provinces issue tenders for things that are not necessary.

This spending means the budget for equipment and medicine is ­depleted, and can lead to the ­collapse of healthcare offered in these hospitals and clinics.

But it’s not only the public sector that is dealing with equipment failures. After Motsoaledi’s speech on Wednesday, a Soweto man stood up to complain about his experience at a private hospital in Joburg.

The man told Motsoaledi that his wife and her friend were involved in a car crash and were rushed to the hospital.

Her friend was x-rayed first, but when it was his wife’s turn, the man explained, the machine would not work.

Luckily, the man told Motsoaledi, he was an electrician by trade and offered to check the machine while waiting for a technician.

“I discovered that there was a problem with the wiring. The positive wire had snapped,” he said.

In response, Motsoaledi said: “This thing must be corrected. It causes havoc in healthcare. In the past, there used to be people who were trained to repair machines in hospitals.

“Today, it costs eight times more to repair a machine because there are no in-house technicians in ­hospitals.

“Incidents like this made us realise we need in-house technicians, which is why we have started a programme that trains technicians at Tshwane University of Technology.”

The programme started this year.