Helen Joseph Hospital: Crowding, More Deaths

Democratic Alliance (DA) Gauteng Shadow Health MEC Jack Bloom on Thursday sounded the alarm over “increased number of deaths” at the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg.

“Deaths and serious adverse events have increased at the Helen Joseph Hospital’s emergency department as they battle with a flood of extra patients from the fire-damaged Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital,” said Bloom without giving an exact number.

He said there were 148 staff vacancies – 125 nurses and 8 vacancies in the hard-pressed emergency unit.

Bloom said there were 2 206 funded posts in total, but Helen Joseph should really have 943 more posts to perform its upgraded functions as a tertiary hospital.

The DA member of the Gauteng provincial legislature said a proposed organogram for these posts was submitted in January 2013, but was never implemented.

“This is revealed by Gauteng Health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi in a written reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature,” said Bloom.

The emergency department has been severely affected by overcrowding as a result of bed shortages in the wards, especially the Intensive Care Unit.

There is an overload of staff and equipment, and the resuscitation area often holds double the intended patients.

The hospital is struggling with inadequate vents/monitors and staff to properly monitor all patients. There are increased deaths and serious adverse events as they do not have the staff to see all patients.

Another challenge was that oxygen was in short supply owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, said Bloom.

Staff burnout remains a major concern.

Bloom said there were “increased complaints due to the huge strain on doctors who may get short-tempered with patients and relatives who are aggressive and rude”.

Another major problem was that the number of psychiatric patients was more than four times what the hospital could handle.

There were many incidents of abuse to staff including the stabbing of a security guard and attempted hanging of a patient in a small cubicle.

“I am greatly concerned at the Gauteng Health Department’s neglect of this hospital by starving it of the funds and staff needed to provide a proper health service for patients,” said Bloom.

“The most visible strain is in the emergency department where medical negligence has soared and lives are lost because of gross overcrowding.”

Bloom said “R500 million was wasted” on refurbishing the Anglo Ashanti Hospital in the far west rand.

He said the Special Investigating Unit found the money was spent irregularly.

“This money should have gone to existing hospitals like Helen Joseph which are struggling with extra patients due to Covid-19 and the partial closure of the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital,” said Bloom.