WATCH | Sick sleep on hospital floor

Due to too few doctors, many sleep on floors and benches, to be seen to

Nosingile Bhungqu, 94, is among the many patients forced to sleep on benches and floors at Butterworth Hospital due to the long time it takes to be seen to by a doctor.
Nosingile Bhungqu, 94, is among the many patients forced to sleep on benches and floors at Butterworth Hospital due to the long time it takes to be seen to by a doctor.
Image: Sino Majangaza

Sick and elderly patients spend the night sleeping on cold hospital floors and benches in the hope of getting to the front of the queue for medical help the next day.

The Daily Dispatch visited Butterworth Hospital last Tuesday, where between 70 to 80 people were waiting to be seen by doctors at the outpatients department (OPD).

Many had slept there the night before.

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) has attributed the growing problem in South Africa to a collapse of primary healthcare.

Elderly Nongemva Maqegu, who had arrived at the hospital at 6am on Monday, said she had travelled from Willowvale.

“I did everything, but when I went to collect my medication, I was told that my blood pressure was not done and I must come back the following day.”

Instead of returning home, Maqegu spent a cold winter’s night sleeping on a bench under a thin blanket that only covered her upper body.

“I had no choice but to sleep here,” she said.

Patients sleep overnight on the floor of Butterworth Hospital, so they can be seen to first the next day.
Patients sleep overnight on the floor of Butterworth Hospital, so they can be seen to first the next day.
Image: Sino Majangaza

Many of the patients travel far from surrounding rural towns such as Ngqamakhwe, Centane, Dutywa, Willowvale and villages around Butterworth.

Patients who spoke to the Daily Dispatch on Tuesday, said it was a regular occurrence for many sick people to stay overnight at the hospital, in order to hopefully get medical attention the following day.

Simama France, of Dutywa, arrived at the hospital on Monday at about 8am.

“I have been here since yesterday. It was also packed.

“I am still queuing because I did not see the doctor yesterday [last Monday]. I do not know why they are taking so long to attend to us,” she said.

People waiting in the queue to be attended, told the Dispatch that they had no hope of seeing a doctor that day.

Sonwabo Madolo, 67, and other people spend the night at the hospital.
Sonwabo Madolo, 67, and other people spend the night at the hospital.
Image: Sino Majangaza

“I am just queuing but I know the chances of seeing the doctor today and going home with my medication are very slim,” said a patient, who asked not to be named.

The Daily Dispatch returned to the hospital on Thursday night and found dozens of sick and elderly patients sleeping in the OPD and casualty departments.

Nosingile Bhungqu, 94, of Willowvale, who was sleeping on a bench in casualty, was accompanied by her daughter, Thozama Bhungqu.

Thozama said they had to sleep at the hospital because it had been too late to return home after they had been attended to.

“We arrived here at 6am hoping we would be done on time, so that we could go back, but it was not the case.

“Had we left here, we were going to be stuck with no transport going home. The best thing was to sleep here,” she said.

I am just queuing but I know chances of seeing a doctor today are very slim
Simama France of Dutywa

After spending the night on the cold floor, the only thing Sonwabo Madolo could say to the Daily Dispatch was: “It was the longest night of my life. It was so cold.”

Health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo initially denied claims of people having to sleep overnight at the hospital in order to be seen to.

“Since my arrival on Monday [last week] I have monitored the situation in OPD.

“No clients [patients] were left unattended since Monday, so there are no patients sleeping on the chairs because they had not been seen on the day they arrived,” he said.

However, the Dispatch showed him pictures of patients sleeping on the floor and benches.

Kupelo then blamed the patients, saying they should visit their local clinics first, where they would be treated or referred to the hospital.

He said the hospital had eight medical officers, including a clinical manager, four community service doctors and three clinical associates. He, however, admitted that the OPD had a shortage of consulting rooms.

“There are three. In the three consulting rooms, two doctors share one consulting room.

“One consulting room is small and caters for only one doctor. So in all, there are five doctors at a time in the OPD,” he said.

Sick and elderly patients spend the night sleeping on cold hospital floors and benches in the hope of getting to the front of the queue for medical help the next day.

Denosa provincial secretary Khaya Sodidi said people had little faith in their local clinics, which were often without medication and essential equipment.

Sodidi said the out-patient department should be a one-day visit.

Butterworth was not the only hospital where patients slept on floors, he added.

“The problem is common throughout the province.”

Sodidi said the dire shortage of doctors and nurses to see to OPD patients was a contributing factor, and the department needed to first sort out the mess in primary health care.

Kupelo said plans for a revamp were in the pipeline to deal with the challenge of water and limited space at the hospital. “It’s a huge project.”

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