Patients wait months for surgery at Leratong hospital as non-payment shuts down theatres 

a front view of the entrance of Leratong Hospital
Some patients wait as long as a year for surgery.


More than 500 patients at Leratong regional hospital, in Mogale City west of Johannesburg have been awaiting surgery for months. The hospital’s eight theatres units have not been working after a disgruntled supplier electronically soft locked a code in the air conditioning unit. This led to the shutdown of theatres as they were too hot to operate in.  

Since then patients at the 855 bed facility in need of surgery have had to be transferred to  Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Carletonville District and Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospitals. 

This arrangement is taking a toll on healthcare workers who have to commute between different healthcare facilities to look after patients. One doctor says they are tired as they have to work between two facilities. 

“The situation is draining because we have to travel to other hospitals for operations. Our hospitals are understaffed. As a result you will be working on a patient and get a call about a critical emergency. As soon as you are done with the patient you have to rush to the [other] hospital which is about 15 minutes away. The situation is truly tiring, the non functioning theatres have dragged on for a long time.” 

He says the situation is also contributing to the surgical backlog at Leratong hospital. The 45-year-old level 2 hospital gets referrals from two district hospitals and more than 70 clinics in the West Rand and Johannesburg metro. It has an estimated catchment population of 1.5 million people who are mainly low-income. One nurse says some patients at Leratong hospital have been awaiting surgery for as long as a year.  

A nurse who spoke to Health-e News on condition of anonymity says the theatre units at the hospital haven’t been working “for a while”.

“Every day we book a space for two patients who are critically ill at nearby hospitals. This is affecting service delivery as healthcare workers have to commute between hospitals,” she says.

Non-payment of contractor

In November 2023 Leratong hospital hired contractors to replace parts of the ceilings that had collapsed. An insider at the hospital explains that during this period the air-conditioning units, or chillers, for the entire hospital were also repaired or upgraded. 

But the hospital allegedly failed to pay the contractor, who in turn, could not pay his supplier for the upgraded air conditioning units. As a result, the supplier electronically soft locked air conditioning units using a code, meaning no one can operate parts of the chiller.

The Gauteng health department did not respond to our question of why some patients have been waiting a year for an operation at the hospital. 

However, it says it is aware that theatres have not been functional at Leratong hospital since November last year when the ceilings were renovated. Acting head of communications Khutso Rabothata says this was the same period when the new chiller was installed.

“The hospital has 572 patients awaiting surgeries. At this stage theatres are not accessible as the chiller was electronically soft locked by the supplier. It will only be opened as soon as the supplier is fully paid by the appointed contractors. The invoice of the installation was approved by the department and it is only awaiting the payment run,” Rabothata says. 

Rabothata cannot confirm when the payment run would take place. He says the department’s central system is dealing with batches of invoices from all the public healthcare facilities in the province. 

Unit out for repairs

Rabothata says initially theatres were closed on 13 February this year to allow the installation of the standby chiller and this job was concluded on 4 March. 

“The theatres were then operational from then until 9 March when the temperatures could not be regulated to the required levels due to unforeseen breakdown of the standby chiller. A service provider was then instantly appointed to repair the chiller and the job is due to be completed by the end of April 2024.” 

The standby chiller is currently undergoing major repairs and is only expected to be back online in the next three weeks. The hospital’s operations are scheduled through booked slots, which are a combination of planned operations and emergency procedures. 

“As such, an exact daily count of operations is not readily available,” he says, adding that when the theatres are working fine, the waiting period for surgery is roughly three months.

Subscribe to our newsletter

A statement issued by Leratong hospital on Thursday says the theatres were not working due to “ongoing repairs”. 

“The department is pushing for the acceleration of all the processes to ensure that all issues affecting the proper functioning of these theatres are resolved by the end of April 2024,” the statement reads. 

Patients left in the dark 

Last week the Gauteng health department claimed it had cleared 37,000 surgical backlogs in eight months. But doctors are worried that the diversion of patients will add to the surgical backlog in the province. And patients at Leratong hospital are on a waiting list and say they don’t know how long it will take for them to be operated on. 

When Health-e visited the hospital last week the facility was bustling. People were hurrying from the mini taxi rank in front of the entrance to the main, red brick building of the hospital. The reception area was full to capacity, including several wheelchair bound patients.

Health-e News spoke with a 48-year-old mother whose son was admitted to the hospital last month after an accident. 

“His hip dislocated and the long bone cracked. We were told that he would be placed on the waiting list as the theatre is under renovation. Ever since then he is given painkillers and told to wait,” she says.

The patient who cannot be named for fear of victimisation tells Health-e News that he is scared of losing his job. (The family asked not to share his job details).

“There is a patient who had been here for six months and he only left today. Others have been here for three months. It is very depressing as I don’t know when my turn will come,” he says while staring into space.

A second family Health-e spoke with say their relative has been at the hospital for over a month. 

“He was shot in the shoulder but the doctors managed to take out the bullet. He was told to wait for an operation. We are now going to the second month and the hospital cannot confirm his operation date,” says the patient’s aunt. 

“He is just a child who is in pain and needs help. He is doing his first year in college and losing out on his schoolwork. One of the nurses told me the theatre was not working,” she says. 

Health-e News learned that patients haven’t been sent to other hospitals because theatre space was a challenge in several facilities. 

Speaking on behalf of Dr Yusuf Dadoo Hospital, Puseletso Mabidikame says the facility has five theatres  but only two are fully functional. 

“The other three are awaiting refurbishment and they are partially functional. Normally there are five cases conducted daily. However, with the added patients from Leratong Hospital there are 15 patients who are operated on during the day and night shift,” she says.- Health-e News

Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter


Free to Share

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Stay in the loop

We love that you love visiting our site. Our content is free, but to continue reading, please register.

Newsletter Subscription

Enable Notifications OK No thanks