Maverick Citizen

HEALTHCARE CRISIS

Bara Hospital cancels surgeries after infrastructure department contractors fail to fix flood damage

Bara Hospital cancels surgeries after infrastructure department contractors fail to fix flood damage
Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital on 28 April 2020 in Soweto, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sydney Seshibedi)

Burst pipes and extensive water damage at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital have led to the scrapping of elective surgery schedules, with no word from government about when repairs will be completed.

Nine operating theatres at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital have been forced out of commission after being flooded more than a week ago. The Gauteng Department of Infrastructure and Development’s contractors appointed to do emergency repairs haven’t been able to get the job done. 

Problems at the Soweto hospital started on Wednesday, 12 July, with water interruptions from Rand Water’s extensive maintenance shutdown. Bara has two separate water feeds; it was meant to shield the critical health facility from the worst effects of the city’s widespread shutdown that was scheduled for 58 hours of downtime.

But by Wednesday night, all the pipes ran dry. Hospital staffers were told the water interruptions were from the high stages of load shedding that caused pumps to fail. 

A hospital insider who spoke to Daily Maverick said that with no running water available, elective surgeries at the hospital had to be cancelled on Thursday

Then, on Friday, another crisis hit. When the water supply returned, pressure on the ageing system caused the pipe joints to crack. This led to flooding in the theatres. Elective surgeries were once again postponed – and it’s been this way for over a week. 

There have been no progress updates from the provincial government.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Doctors’ SOS as Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital faces essential food shortage

Emergency surgeries that take place in theatres in a newer part of the hospital and in gynaecology and obstetrics theatres, as well as the eye hospital, have been unaffected. But the knock-on effects are clearly visible.

One hospital source who spoke to Daily Maverick said: “The GDID [Gauteng Department of Infrastructure and Development] decides on the contractors the hospital has to use. But the contractor who arrived managed to fix one section of the pipes, only for other pipes to burst elsewhere. 

“Then they said they didn’t have the equipment or the skills to do the job. Now a second contractor has been brought in, but we still don’t know when the theatres will be operational again.”

One doctor said they had to rely on sterile surgical packs from other facilities as the water interruptions made it impossible to sterilise surgical instruments at Bara. He added that disruptions in the theatres have had major implications for the overall running of the hospital. For a start, the availability and allocation of beds have been affected. Resources to prepare patients for surgery have also been wasted.

“Elective surgeries can be cancer surgeries, vascular surgeries or orthopaedic surgeries. Some of these people have been waiting for months or even years for their operations, so the backlog now just keeps growing. The further a patient’s surgery gets pushed back, the more it impacts their quality of life and chances of survival.

“There was a catch-up schedule for surgery on the Saturday, but that also had to be cancelled because contractors couldn’t finish their work. So it’s now been over a week without elective surgeries taking place,” the doctor said.

He added: “We cannot be left at the mercy of government departments that have no concern for the urgency of patients’ needs. Bara continues to be under-resourced ever since the apartheid days, and the only thing the politicians seem to care about is when they come here for photo opportunities.” 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Senior Bara hospital staff call for urgent meeting with Gauteng health MEC over job cuts

Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital CEO Dr Nkele Lesia confirmed that with nine theatres out of use, 20 surgeries a day are now being added to their backlog list.

She said the lack of progress from the Department of Infrastructure and Development’s contractors more than a week later has been “very frustrating for us. It’s affecting patients and it’s putting us under a lot of pressure. 

“The mood and the morale is not okay for us, because the people who are here at Bara are people who want to work. But we don’t even know if this will be sorted out by early next week. 

“I don’t know why the contractors can’t fix this problem. I also don’t know about the quality of the service providers that have been appointed by [the] GDID. I don’t know if the job is just too big for them … all we want is for the problem to be fixed so we can use the theatres,” she said. 

Lesia said the incompetence of the contractors is eroding her already squeezed maintenance budget. Bara has an annual budget, she says, of about R5.4-billion, with about R60-million allocated to maintenance. The bulk of the budget goes towards salaries. She says after emergencies such as burst pipes and flooding, new projects have to be put on hold.

“The hospital is old and there’s always a lot of repair work … the money is never enough, but we prioritise. But if the contractor that is chosen by the GDID [which the hospital has no control over, but must pay for] cannot do the job, then they are eating into our budget,” she says. 

Lesia is wrapping up her term as CEO of Bara at the end of the month. It’s another looming concern for staff that this key position will be left vacant or filled by someone who only holds the post in an extended acting capacity. DM

Questions sent to the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure and Development, Gauteng Department of Health and the Office of the Premier were not answered at the time of publishing. The questions included details of the contractors appointed; reasons why they have not been able to carry out the repair work competently; the timeframes and costs for the current emergency repair work; and what contingencies have been put in place to catch up on surgery backlogs.

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