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Inside the deserted passages of Charlotte Maxeke Hospital — and the desperation of the patients in need of help

The entrance to Wits Medical School which forms part of the Academic Hospital. Students are subject to unscheduled power outages throughout the day. (Photo: Supplied)

A hospital worker, who wishes not to be identified, has shared a collection of images taken inside the deserted Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. The Wits Faculty of Health Sciences calls it a humanitarian crisis and has appealed for the undamaged parts of the hospital to be reopened as a matter of urgency, as cancer and palliative groups say desperate patients need urgent care.

The fire that swept through parts of Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, forcing its closure, has had a ripple effect, with surrounding hospitals taking massive strain. Patients who need lifesaving treatment are forced to seek help elsewhere and often face a long wait. Medical students worry about how the closure of the teaching hospital will affect their training. 

Stray plastic and refuse lies on the beds lined up along Hospital Street at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. (Photo: Supplied)

A third wave of Covid-19 is sweeping through Gauteng. A hospital the size of Charlotte Maxeke is desperately needed in the province, but details of plans to reopen it remain sketchy.

Beds lined up along Hospital Street at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. (Photo: Supplied)

We publish a selection of photos showing the inside of this mostly deserted hospital. Sadly, there appears to be no indication that it will be opened anytime soon, as rubbish, dust and grime gather and desperately needed hospital beds stand deserted in the passages.

The health sciences faculty recently expressed support for Gauteng Premier David Makhura’s call to declare Charlotte Maxeke Hospital a local state of disaster. They called the situation a humanitarian crisis.

A stain on the floor outside the Pathology Laboratory at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. The lab is currently operational. (Photo: Supplied)

“Our provincial healthcare system is under severe strain. The protracted closure of [the hospital], the water crisis across several hospitals in Gauteng, and the increase in Covid-19 admissions as we enter the third wave of the pandemic, threaten to collapse an already unstable system,” said faculty dean, Professor Shabir Madhi.

“The loss of critical bed space at [Charlotte Maxeke Hospital] has put undue pressure on other hospitals which are currently functioning at capacity. Helen Joseph Hospital, Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital and Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital have experienced crippling water shortages in the past few weeks and as a result have not been able to deliver adequate healthcare services to their patients.

Uncollected laboratory refuse outside the Pathology Laboratory at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. (Photo: Supplied)

“Notwithstanding the impact this has had on our healthcare system, the closure of [Charlotte Maxeke Hospital] has also had significant consequences for the Faculty of Health Sciences’ clinical training programmes. Although students allocated to [the hospital] were distributed among the other teaching hospitals, this only served to add to the burden and stress of clinicians trying to manage the service delivery crisis. Student numbers across the other clinical platforms have reached a level that prevents proper clinical exposure and training. Inadequate clinical training of undergraduate students has a knock-on effect on the capabilities of this group as future interns and doctors. 

“What we face is no longer just a healthcare crisis — it is a humanitarian crisis.”

An abandoned car in the level 3 parking for clinicians, patients and students at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. The car is streaked with ash from the fire. No one may park here since the fire. (Photo: Supplied)

The faculty’s statement called for the undamaged parts of the hospital — blocks one, two and five — to be reopened as a matter of urgency to prevent further collapse of the system.

Zodwa Sithole, head of advocacy at the Cancer Association of South Africa, said they had been inundated with calls from desperate people whose families can no longer access the care they need. “Patients are anxious as they experience delays in their treatment… many need assistance with pain management, stoma and wound care.”

Level 4 parking at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital where burnt-out sections are cordoned off. (Photo: Supplied)

HospiceWits CEO Jacqui Kaye said many patients have been left in the lurch.

“HospiceWits, in Houghton and Soweto, have had quite a few calls for support for patients from Charlotte Maxeke. Most are non-malignant cases looking for help and support and even medication. These are not really hospice cases. The families become desperate and are in need of medical support. We have probably registered about five oncology patients who were having treatment at the hospital, mostly for home care. Most of the oncology patients have had to be referred to Helen Joseph or Baragwanath hospitals. For HospiceWits the non-malignant cases are more of a concern as they are not receiving the help they need,” said Kaye.

Overflowing trash in the stairwell at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. (Photo: Supplied)

Brenda Bisschoff, the administration manager at Hospice East Rand, said the closure of Charlotte Maxeke Hospital was having a dreadful impact on cancer patients. 

A stairwell at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital littered with refuse and medical waste. (Photo: Supplied)

“The physical and emotional effect of not being able to access their treatment is taking a toll on their already weakened immune systems. Patients are also not able to fill their prescriptions and pain control becomes a major issue. We are struggling to get medical reports completed by Charlotte Maxeke Hospital doctors for patients requesting palliative care from our organisation and this is severely hampering their access to our care. It is a dire situation and compounds the negative effect of patients already trying to cope with a potentially life-threatening illness,” she explained. 

Ewa Skowronska, the CEO of the Hospice Palliative Care Association, said if there was more support for palliative care, more people would get the care they need.

The outside of the no longer operational pharmacy on Hospital Street. Construction appears to have been started and there are piles of building refuse. (Photo: Supplied)

“The current situation in Gauteng is unacceptable. Human lives are at risk and human suffering is not receiving the attention it deserves. We urge anyone who needs palliative care to access hospice via our website and we urge the South African government to prioritise resource allocation to the palliative care sector as a whole.” DM/MC

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  • A sad situation we see all around us, when something is broke it stays broke. The problems at the hospital are not only the result of fire but the erosion of infrastructure we see all around us, from potholes to falling ceilings. Nothing is repaired, preventive maintenance is unknown.

  • I see a HUGE tender opportunity for the very same corrupt construction companies that are involved in the Eskom corruption scandals as reported by Bowmans.