The SA Medical Association is so concerned about lax security at public hospitals – and the consequent threat to the lives of staff and patients – that they have called for a meeting with Health MEC Theuns Botha.
Provincial health department statistics show that during the 2009/10 financial year, they recorded almost 1 600 incidents in which doctors and nurses were either threatened, assaulted, mishandled or attacked with weapons while on duty.
Public health sector medical staff say they risk their lives at work because of a lack of security which could give criminals free rein in restricted areas.
This, they charge, not only puts their lives at risk, but also the lives of their patients.
Last week, a Cape Argus news team investigated the situation at 10 provincial hospitals and clinics – including the three tertiary hospitals and clinics in some of the province’s most violent neighbourhoods – and found they could enter freely without being searched, questioned or having to pass through metal detectors.
The team had easy access to restricted areas, including maternity sections, trauma units, medical wards and intensive care units (ICU) and even admin sections.
In at least three hospitals – Tygerberg, Somerset and Wesfleur hospital in Atlantis – the team entered the maternity sections without question, while they easily accessed the ICUs in every institution.
It was from Tygerberg Hospital’s maternity unit that a two-week-old baby, known as BZ Ncumani, was kidnapped two years ago. Just over a month later, police found the baby at the home of a 31-year-old woman. DNA tests were conducted and the baby reunited with his parents.
Other than Tygerberg, Somerset and Wesfleur, the Cape Argus team also visited – outside visiting hours – Groote Schuur, Red Cross Children’s Hospital, GF Jooste in Manenberg, Victoria, Delft Community Health Centre (CHC), Khayelitsha CHC and Mitchells Plain CHC.
Not once were they searched, and only at Groote Schuur and Red Cross did they have enter through metal detectors.
But when the detectors were activated at both hospitals, the team was not searched.
At GF Jooste Hospital, there were metal detectors only at the trauma unit entrance. But the team managed to get around these by entering at outpatients. At Mitchells Plain CHC, pedestrians passed through metal detectors, but motorists were not subjected to such security measures.
Tygerberg, Somerset, and Victoria hospitals, as well as Delft CHC and Khayelitsha CHC had no metal detectors, while handheld detectors were used, infrequently, at Wesfleur.
Doctors who spoke to the Cape Argus on condition of anonymity said it was such security loopholes that allowed criminal elements to take advantage.
One Tygerberg orthopaedics registrar said: “Most of the time the guards are visible at the gates and maybe neonatal units, but you hardly see them inside. Here anything may happen. You can easily walk into the ward and harm whoever you want to harm and walk out … no one will stop you.”
Dr Mark Sonderup, vice- chairman of the SA Medical Association, which represents the country’s doctors, said Western Cape doctors were being threatened in the workplace, and even attacked or robbed of their belongings.
This needed to be addressed now, he said, or the result would be loss of lives.
The provincial health department has. however. offered the assurance that lax security is being addressed.
Botha said the province was in the process of tightening up and monitoring the performance of security personnel, aside from the significant investment in CCTV cameras and improving access control into health facilities.
His department spent about R100 million annually on security companies.
But when the news team went to Tygerberg Hospital – the biggest in the province – there were no visible security guards at the main entrance.
They also entered the maternity section past a vacant security desk, and it was only when the team passed the nurses’ station that they were asked by a nurse who they were visiting. On their return, the security guard was back at her desk, but asked no questions.
At the ICU, the team went straight in, passing nurses and doctors. They also accessed a room with medicines, and a store room with boxes and ICU medical equipment.
At Red Cross the team accessed various sections, including the ICU, burns unit and surgical ward. At Somerset, only one member of the news team bypassed security without being stopped, accessing the ICU, maternity and neonatal units.
At GF Jooste, the team accessed the linen storage area and a room where medical equipment, including needles, was stored. It was only in the trauma units at these hospitals that they were spotted. Even then they weren’t thrown out, but were told only one visitor at a time.
Security at maternity and neonatal units was, however, generally tighter, with most having security guards.
Health department spokeswoman Faiza Steyn said: “Our primary role… is to keep our communities healthy. The money used on security could be better used fighting the burden of disease.”.