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2023-05-02 at 12:05 #402716Nat QuinnKeymaster
Gauteng’s biggest hospital, Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHBAH) is facing serious food shortages that are impacting on patients’ health and well-being. A breakdown in certain food supplies is forcing doctors and nurses to scramble to make a plan about how to feed patients. Once again, the root of the problem appears to lie in maladministration at the Gauteng Health Department and the failure to pay suppliers on time.
Daily Maverick was first alerted to the problem last week, when a departmental head contacted us to complain: “So once again there is a food crises at Bara – suppliers weren’t paid, also no soap and hand towels and as a result infections spreading 😡.”
The health worker, who asked not to be named, told us that this is a long-standing problem that “has now reached crisis point because companies are refusing to deliver because of non-payment. The problem is that companies are awarded tenders to supply a number of different products so, for example, if not paid for eggs they refuse to deliver milk.”
She said CHBAH had also apparently been struggling with the supply of dry groceries since January. Part of the problem, she says, is the award of tenders to small contractors who can’t meet the demand.
Explaining what it meant in terms of day-to-day care the doctor said that “when there was no white meat cheese was purchased.” However, “Now there’s no petty cash, so no cheese!”
Yesterday, when we contacted the health worker again she told us CHBAH is “dealing with the crisis day-to-day from petty cash which is depleted. Today patients are now having baked bean soup as a protein as the supplier has not been paid! It’s really unacceptable that our patients are going through this.”
We contacted another senior health worker in the hospital to verify these claims.
She confirmed them and, while also asking not to be named, told us that “it is a province-wide problem involving non-payment of suppliers. Hence the non-delivery of perishable groceries. Kitchens from different hospitals are borrowing food items from each other in order to feed patients.”
In this case CHBAH is borrowing food from South Rand Hospital in Rosettenville and Bheki Mlangeni District Hospital, also in Soweto.
“It has been a problem for the past two weeks mainly affecting protein. The same problems are being experienced with drugs and dry stores,” she said.
The doctor claims that the Chief Financial Officer at the GDoH central office is not signing off on supplier payments: “I don’t think he understands the implications of his actions for patient care. It limits the scope of patients’ diets and quantities per meal.”
The doctor added that due to a financial crisis in the department there are also “major acute infrastructure issues in critical areas not being attended to, leading to closure of beds and cancellations of elective surgery.”
The doctor said that “most hospitals are quiet because of intimidation. Only CHBAH has flagged these problems with the GDoH’s Acting HOD and the MEC, Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko, but no solutions have been brought forward yet.”
Yesterday, doctors at Charlotte Maxeke and Helen Joseph hospitals said they were not aware of problems.
Finally she warned that there is a possibility of medical waste removal stopping “with effect from tomorrow” due to non-payment.
As basic hospital infrastructure gets neglected the indignity being faced by health workers and patients extends to the effects of access to water and sanitation. Another health worker told us about “the sewer stench in our outpatients section at CHBAH that patients and staff have to deal with daily” and that there are no she-bins in bathrooms for staff to discard their sanitary pads.
These reports should embarrass Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi who, on assuming office in October 2022 gave a speech in which he said that: “We are serious about health. Hospitals must not be the way they are now. We are starting with [fixing] the hospitals in the townships, as part of our broader township development agenda. We want to see a 360-degree change.”
Justifying the appointment of an MEC with skills in financial management (but not in health) he said that “This must be the department that pays service providers within 30 days. If you don’t pay, you don’t get services; if you don’t get services people don’t get quality.”
Motalatale Modiba, spokesperson for the Gauteng Department of Health, said:
“There has not been a shortage of essential food in the past two weeks.
“There has been an intention by the supplier to withhold the supply of protein food items (such chicken and fish) due to payments beyond Christ Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital that needed to be cleared. The challenge had to do with the end of financial year closure and delays in the reloading of budget commitments for processing.
“As things stand all meals have been provided to date including special meals.
“The supplier for protein food items as indicated above has been engaged and has committed to continue delivering as per their contractural obligation.”
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