Maverick Citizen

Maverick Citizen: A province at breaking point

Children with cancer wrapped in curtain as two public hospitals in Gqeberha run out of linen

Bags of dirty linen were discovered stashed away in an abandoned ward at Provincial Hospital in Gqeberha as the wards are running out of clean sheets and gowns. (Photos: Supplied)

Desperate doctors also had to beg hospital management just to cover a few beds with sheets to allow them to admit the critically ill as Port Elizabeth’s Provincial and Livingstone hospitals ran out of linen.

Linen cupboards at Port Elizabeth’s Provincial and Livingstone hospitals are running bare and doctors are struggling to admit patients because they do not even have enough hospital gowns or sheets to prepare beds for them, according to hospital sources.

Doctors also had to use ward curtains to cover children with cancer in one of the wards, they say.

It is understood that desperate health workers are begging hospital management to allow them to call on the public to donate linen or to help clean the wards.

Bags of dirty linen were discovered stashed away in an abandoned ward at Provincial Hospital in Gqeberha as the wards are running out of clean sheets and gowns. (Photos: Supplied)

Department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo has confirmed there were problems with linen at the hospitals. “The machine is not working. That matter is outsourced. There are discussions to look at putting up appropriate laundry services for health facilities in the area.”

But according to confirmed information from several hospital sources, laundry services are not being outsourced because of union resistance to the idea.

It appears the linen-management programme at the hospitals is riddled with misunderstandings.

“Last month, when we visited with MEC Nomakhosazana Meth,” Kupelo said, “we were told that outsourcing was very expensive so the proposal is for the hospital to insource laundry services. It has nothing to do with the unions.”

However, in July 2020, at the height of the first wave of Covid-19 infections in Nelson Mandela Bay, the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition wrote to former MEC Sindiswa Gomba to highlight, among other things, the squalid conditions in Gqeberha’s public hospitals.

“There are numerous issues with the linen bank and laundry service. Unresolved labour disputes, insufficient laundry aids and staff fears of contracting Covid-19 from patient linen have resulted in a complete malfunction of laundry services at the hospital, posing a further risk to patients and staff,” the letter read.

“Patients are advised to bring their own linen when they are treated at the hospital. As a result of the non-functional laundry service, disposable gowns are being used, which take funds away from critical services.”

Doctors have been watching the slow depletion of linen for the past four months and now the cupboards are bare. Some had to beg for just three bed sheets to admit three patients. Since March, non-urgent patients who arrive at the hospital for treatment from across the province have been turned away since beds are limited owing to linen problems.

Bags full of soiled blankets, gowns and other linen were discovered in an abandoned ward at Provincial Hospital on Tuesday. Health and safety investigators also found bags full of dirty linen in a warehouse at Livingstone Hospital in 2020. 

Several weeks’ worth of contaminated laundry – from patients with Covid-19 – have been piling up unwashed in a storeroom at Livingstone Hospital as the hospital’s laundry facility remained closed.

This was confirmed by the Department of Health, which said eight workers tested positive for Covid-19.

In an internal report dated 13 June, the acting CEO of the hospital, Dr Khanyisa Makamba, said bags of linen from a service provider had to be delivered to the hospital because the laundry was closed. Sources in the department confirmed that officials conducting a safety and risk audit at the hospital found the room filled with contaminated laundry, and were “absolutely horrified” and “appalled”.

The discovery came as many civil society organisations in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro raised the alarm that patients had no blankets at the hospital. One patient was seen trying to cover herself with newspaper to stay warm. DM/MC


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