Patients, staff stranded as protests encircle KZN hospital

Patients, staff stranded as protests encircle KZN hospitalA woman reportedly walked 18 kms to reach the barricaded hospital and seek help for her sick infant. This is how the road appeared late last week.

Staff and patients at Bethesda District Hospital have been left stranded as local communities protest water shortages. Community members say patients have been unable to access treatment and emergency cases have been diverted since protests started Wednesday.

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Service delivery protests allegedly followed two months of non-delivery by water trucks
Service delivery protests allegedly followed two months of non-delivery by water trucks

Located about 330km east of Newcastle in Ubombo, the 230-bed hospital has been unable to get patients or supplies in or out of the hospital since community members from nearby Jozini began protesting water shortages in the area.

On 5 November, The Mercury newspaper reported that protests were prompted by Umkhanyakude District Municipality’s alleged failure to provide water deliveries via tankers for two months. According to The Mercury, Jeffrey Vilane has blamed the shortage of water on a shortage of tanks.

Yesterday, the protestors had blocked the road to and from the hospital, effectively cutting off the hospital from deliveries of supplies or critically ill patients from emergency care. If the hospital does not receive more food, it will run out of food for patients by Sunday.

According to local emergency medical services personnel who asked not to be named, at least one patient in need of emergency care had to be diverted to a local clinic where nurses had to be telephonically coached on how to stabilise the patient before she could be transported to another hospital farther afield.

[quote float= right]If the hospital does not receive more food, it will run out of food for patients by Sunday

Today, several community members have also reported that patients on chronic medication like antiretrovirals and tuberculosis medication have not been able to collect treatment for several days.

Umbombo Police have confirmed that protestors continue to block access to the hospital and have called for local leaders to address the crowd.

“With the manpower that we have got, we are doing everything to calm down the situation but the people are still blocking the access,” said South African Police Service (SAPS) Major Thulani Zwane. “Leadership in the area need to talk to the community and address their needs.”

Zwane said it was unlikely that SAPS would be able to, for instance, try to escort patients in or out of the hospital.

“We will continue to monitor the situation in the area and it is not easy to reach hospital,” Zwane added. “Our duty is to try and manage the situation in the area, but hospital management may get other (alternatives) to protect their staff while police are busy with protests.”

KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health Spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi said the department has “plans in place to mitigate the impact of the protest action on service delivery” at the hospital.

An edited version of this story also appeared on Health24.com