Public criticism over the inhumane treatment of elderly patients in Durban hospital has sparked huge outrage.
“You sit on a hard chair or lie on a thin gurney for five days, then you’re told to pack your things and go because the machine is broken and no treatment is available.
That was the fate of a pensioner at Durban’s Addington Hospital who arrived for treatment on Monday and by lunchtime on Friday still lay on a gurney waiting for treatment.
The gurney was similar to those used by doctors in an examining room: narrow with a thin, hard mattress.
Former IFP KwaZulu-Natal MPL Loretta Rajkumar contacted the Independent on Saturday to highlight the plight of pensioners waiting, often for days, for treatment.
According to Rajkumar, she spent three days and three nights sitting on a hard chair with drips attached to her body, waiting to be treated at the hospital in April.
“I talked to another patient who had been waiting for 10 days,” she said.
She returned on Wednesday for further treatment for klebsiella pneumonia and a lung infection, which she suspected she caught during her previous hospital stay last month.
“I was admitted, but told I could not go into a ward because there were no beds available. Two other patients were pensioners who had been waiting all week for a bed. This is a huge crisis.”
The Independent on Saturday visited the two patients and Rajkumar on Friday. Neither patient wanted to be named for fear of reprisal from hospital staff.
The first patient, 75, said she had arrived at the hospital last Saturday after suffering a stroke. She had finally been moved into a ward on Friday, but expected to be moved back into the waiting area for the weekend.
She had spent most of the week sitting because the gurney was too narrow for her to lie down.
“I can’t walk. It’s terrible here, it’s been very bad. I did have food and the nurse did give me medication, but did not help us,” she said.
The second patient, 73, said she had arrived on Monday after suffering from stomach troubles and was still waiting to see a doctor and have a scan.
“I brought my own medication, they have only checked my blood pressure and sugar,” she said, adding that she sat in a chair for the first two days.
“My back was sore, so I said to the nurse, ‘I’m 73 years old, I can’t sit here.’
“They brought me here, it is not comfortable, I still have back pain. I can’t sleep properly at night because if I turn over on this bed, I’ll fall out.”
Rajkumar said while the staff “worked tirelessly”, conditions in the waiting room were unhygienic and it appeared that equipment did not work.
“The men and women share a toilet and the toilet doors don’t lock. And how many days can you go without bathing?
“It’s difficult to sit in a hard steel chair or lie on a thin gurney all day and night. You are sent to casualty to be admitted, but then told there are no beds and brought to this place. The lights also don’t work.
“It’s so bad, this isn’t how humans should be treated,” she said.
The “waiting ward” the patients were in had an “Isolation Ward” sign hanging at one end of the room, with about six gurneys. There were no side tables, and both taps were broken in a dirty sink.
As Independent on Saturday was looking at the toilet, security arrived with a senior hospital staff member and demanded to know why members of the media were in the hospital without prior approval from the public relations department.
Photographs taken had to be deleted in front of security before the team was taken to the PR office. It looked closed and no staff member appeared to have a contact number. The IOS team was taken to the main security room and questioned further. They were then escorted out of the hospital premises by security.
An angry official said any media wanting to come to the hospital had to arrange a visit with the PR officer, who would then escort such a team around.
Rajkumar said the 73-year-old patient had been immediately discharged after the media had been removed.
“After being here all week, she was told no CT scan machines were working and they will give her a call when it is fixed,” said Rajkumar, adding that staff could not cope with the overwhelming number of people coming in.
KZN Department of Health spokesperson Ncumisa Mafunda said congestion at the hospital was the result of patients by-passing clinics and institutions, forcing hospitals to treat district and regional patients, resulting in an occupancy rate of more than 100%.
He added that patients were assessed daily and prioritised for bed availability. In cases where patients had waited for “a long time with no beds”, they were referred to other nearby institutions.
In an effort to relieve the congestion, Mafunda said, “doctors working in theatre have successfully applied for overtime pay which will fast track surgical interventions, which will result in decongestion of units and a reduction in the average length of stay, ultimately lowering bed occupancy rates”.
He added there had been “challenges with the CT scanner, which is expected to be replaced in June”.