South Africa


Charlotte Maxeke closure is placing ‘severe strain’ on Helen Joseph

Charlotte Maxeke closure is placing ‘severe strain’ on Helen Joseph
A fire at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in April has resulted in its partial closure. This has placed severe strain on the Gauteng health system. (Archive photo: Masego Mafata)

The Gauteng health department has taken over the reconstruction of the hospital from the provincial Department of Infrastructure Development.

Health workers at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg say the increased patient load has placed severe strain on the hospital. The hospital is currently the only functioning tertiary emergency facility in central Johannesburg.

Doctors say the 10-month closure of the emergency unit and psychiatric ward at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital has resulted in Helen Joseph Hospital treating more patients, many of whom would ordinarily be treated at Charlotte Maxeke.

Charlotte Maxeke was forced to close on 16 April after a fire. The hospital opened partially in June, offering some medical and radiation oncology services, renal care, high-risk maternity care and an intensive care unit for Covid-19 patients. Patients requiring other services have been referred to hospitals in Charlotte Maxeke’s cluster, which includes Helen Joseph and Chris Hani Baragwanath hospitals.

Corruption stalls repair of Gauteng’s fire-damaged Charlotte Maxeke hospital

GroundUp spoke to a few staff members at Helen Joseph Hospital. They asked to remain anonymous because they are not allowed to speak to the media.

“Yesterday there were about 145 patients waiting in our emergency department. Between 70 and 80 patients had been treated, processed through the system and were waiting for beds in wards. The waiting period for beds has increased from a couple of hours to days,” said one doctor.

The doctor said there’s been a minor increase in staff members to the emergency unit to help them cope with this load. There are about eight doctors treating more than 100 patients per shift, the doctor said.

“Staff in the emergency department are essentially becoming ward staff, meaning the workload has increased from giving initial medications and resuscitative medications to treating patients who need repeat doses and repeat scripts. The emergency department has become multiple wards in one and we are not coping,” the doctor said.

The doctor said Helen Joseph has capacity for seven resuscitation patients, but they have had to treat up to 16 people in the resuscitation area, meaning patients have to share monitors.

“As far as we know, there have been no budget reallocations from Charlotte Maxeke to our hospital. We often run out of consumables like Jelco needles for drips and chest tubes,” the doctor said.

The doctor said while the allocation of some staff from Charlotte Maxeke to Helen Joseph was helpful, the hospital did not have enough beds and resources to treat the increased patient load.

The capacity at Helen Joseph is about 636 beds, while Charlotte Maxeke has almost 1,070. However, Charlotte Maxeke Hospital CEO Gladys Bogoshi said her hospital is currently operating at a capacity of about 650 beds.

Cleaning staff said it was also difficult for them to keep the area clean because of the cramped conditions in the emergency department. One cleaner said they are constantly having to clean urine from the floor, and shuffle between about 40 patients in an area that is only designed to hold eight patients.

Another doctor expressed concern about the lack of beds for patients requiring psychiatric care at Helen Joseph.

This has resulted in Helen Joseph’s emergency department treating between 35 and 50 patients at any given time. The doctor said the psychiatric ward at Helen Joseph has about 40 beds and is currently full.

“It is a safety concern to have acutely ill psychiatric patients in the emergency department where they can’t receive the appropriate care. Psychiatric wards are designed differently to other wards. People needing psychiatric care are ending up at a hospital that was never designed to cope with such high patient volumes,” said the doctor.

The psychiatry ward at Charlotte Maxeke, which Bogoshi said can accommodate 40 patients, remains closed. She said there were plans to furnish one of the refurbished areas at Charlotte Maxeke with psychiatry beds to alleviate the pressure on Helen Joseph.

The staff members we spoke to said they are doing all they can to care for patients but the quality of their service is compromised. “We are in an environment where we cannot provide optimal care to patients who desperately need it,” said another doctor.

Plans to fast-track refurbishments at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital

On Thursday, the Gauteng government announced at a media briefing at Charlotte Maxeke that the refurbishment at the hospital has been moved from the provincial Department of Infrastructure Development (DID) to the provincial health department.

Premier David Makhura came to this decision after noticing the “slow pace” of the reconstruction of the hospital late in 2021, said Thabo Masebe, acting provincial director-general.

Masebe said delays in refurbishing the hospital were caused by “disagreements between DID and the health department on the scope of the project and budget work done up to this point”.

Corruption allegations and the uncovering of serious irregularities by the Special Investigating Unit regarding DID’s awarding of contracts for AngloGold Ashanti Hospital on the West Rand have also contributed to delays in refurbishing the hospital, he said.

Nine senior officials from DID and the health department were placed on precautionary suspension by the provincial government earlier this month after the provincial government found that more than R500-million had been spent on AngloGold Ashanti Hospital, which is still not being used.

“This issue impacted on our capacity to deliver on the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital project in the shortest possible time,” said Masebe

In 2021, DID spokesperson Bongiwe Gambu told GroundUp that R8-million had been spent on the Radiation Oncology Unit and the total reconstruction cost of the hospital would be more than R60-million.

During the media briefing Bogoshi confirmed that in October 2021 the Solidarity Fund and FirstRand Limited’s SA Pandemic Intervention and Relief Effort Fund donated R68-million for the refurbishment of the hospital’s emergency department and other wards in the affected block.

“The first phase of the project will be completed at the end of February 2022 and the Accident and Emergency Section will be handed over to clinicians for resumption of services,” Masebe said.

To “fast-track” the refurbishments, the provincial government has requested the assistance of the national Health Department and the Development Bank of Southern Africa.

Ayanda Dakela, head of infrastructure at the national department, said he hoped that reconstruction would be completed by the end of 2023. DM

First published by GroundUp.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Become a Maverick Insider

This could have been a paywall

On another site this would have been a paywall. Maverick Insider keeps our content free for all.

Become an Insider