Rural clinic in KZN struggles for years as authorities turn a deaf ear to their plight

Rural clinic in KZN struggles for years as authorities turn a deaf ear to their plightSome village clinics in the Free State operates for half day because of water shortages. (Source: File photo)

Poor service levels at the Charles Johnson Memorial Gateway Clinic in KwaZulu Natal’s Umzinyathi district has been ongoing for so long that it is almost accepted as the clinic’s culture. A shortage of nurses and a confusing number system for patient queues are the main issues impacting heavily on both staff and clinic visitors.

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Calculations done across South Africa in 2013 estimated that 46% of nursing posts were vacant, and last year the patient-to-nurse ratio in KZN stood at 665:1.

The Umzinyathi District Health Plan 2015/16 states that primary health care (PHC) facilities in the area are under-utilised and over-staffed – a description contradictory to the daily reality faced by nurses and patients at CJM Gateway Clinic.

Eqhudeni, Ngqulu, Ntabasbahle, KwaGwija, Ntsingabantu and Masangomnyama there are on clinics out of the 15 clinics that are scattered over rural mountainous Nquthu with deep valleys. Mangeni clinic (28 km away) and Manxili clinic (26 km away) are the only clinics closest to these areas.

Ntombi Mchunu (49) and Ngoneni Ziqibu (24) visited CJM Gateway Clinic recently and had to wait for more than eight hours to recieve their medication. According to the KZN Health Department’s ‘Service Delivery Improvement Plan 2016/17-2018/19’, an ideal clinic is a clinic that has a reasonable waiting time.

“Mangeni Clinic is closer to my home (3,6 km away), but I could not get my medication there so I decided to go to town at CJM Gateway Clinic,” Ziqubu said.

“I live around town EBatshe (7.1 km away from CJM Gateway Clinic). I normally get to the clinic before the nurses start their morning prayer, which after they start working. I go there to get my blood pressure medication. A simple thing like getting medication should take about 30 minutes, but I end up waiting for seven to eight hours. Some people even go back home without getting help at all, although nurses do explain to us that the shortage of nurses is the reason for us having to wait that long,” Mchunu said.

“Those there to get medication, those who are sick, people coming for baby check-ups and those there for family planning – we are mixed in one line after you are given a number by a security guard at the gate.”

Khaya Xaba, media liaison officer for NEHAWU (National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union), said: “Staff shortages are a common problem and for years we have dealt with numerous cases. We strive to champion the interests of workers, and actively we participate in creating an efficient health system. Where we see a need for staff numbers to be supplemented, we make recommendations to the Health Department to hire more people.”

Xaba said Nehawu’s role was to push the Health Department to hire more staff when necessary and to ensure that the limited staff on duty don’t underperform or become demoralised by their workload.

“We have been vocal in calling for the reopening of nursing colleges that were closed down because the number of qualified nurses in the province is diminishing. Through the NHI (National Health Insurance) we would be able to ensure clinics are adequately staffed. In the case of CJM Gateway, we will visit the clinic to assess the situation and deal with it accordingly,” Xaba said.

Agiza Hlongwane, KZN Health Department Deputy Director of media liaison, said he was unable to comment on allegations of ongoing poor service at the clinic due to “a lack of specific information”. – Health-e News.