The ageing Tygerberg Hospital is a money pit, but it will carry on soaking up millions of rand from state health budgets until a “mega project” to replace it kicks off in about five years’ time.
Head of the Western Cape Health Department, Beth Engelbrecht, addressing Parliament’s portfolio committee on health on Wednesday last week, said Tygerberg was in such bad shape the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) had assessed it and said it should be replaced.
“We have spent R700 million just on maintenance in recent years, and you walk through the hospital and you can’t see it – it is sewerage lines, gas lines and water lines,” she said.
The provincial Health Department was trying to get R10 billion out of National Treasury to replace the hospital, she said.
The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) issued a statement on Friday, warning provincial health authorities that closing Tygerberg before alternative facilities had been built “did not make sense”.
Patient numbers were increasing daily, placing the health sector under “severe strain”, said Fedusa deputy general secretary Riefdah Ajam.
Tygerberg, she noted was a specialist facility relied on by local patients as well as those from far-flung rural areas.
“For Tygerberg to be rebuilt, temporary accommodation should be established for specialised care, such as the burns unit, because the province cannot afford to be without specialised treatment facilities.”
But Tygerberg Hospital spokeswoman Laticia Pienaar said on Monday that “under no circumstances” would the hospital be closing, and there had been “misleading” reports to the contrary.
“The hospital is a strategic and crucial part of our health system and is earmarked for replacement not closure,” she said.
The hospital had admitted
66 200 patients and treated almost 310 000 outpatients in the 2017/2018 financial year.
Tygerberg is both a tertiary and academic hospital as well as a regional hospital, and Ms Pienaar said two projects would be needed to replace it: the new Tygerberg Central Hospital and the new Tygerberg Regional Hospital.
Both short-term and long-term replacement processes would run at the same time.
The central hospital plan, she said, would need funding from the national Department of Health.
“Due to it being a mega-project, we hope to have jumped through all the loops to commence with design and building phases in 2023,” said Ms Pienaar.
The business plan for the regional hospital had been submitted to the national department for approval.
In the meantime, Ms Pienaar said, maintenance was still needed on the current facility.
“We need to maintain it in the best possible condition. Recent maintenance projects include the replacement of water and fire reticulation, work on the sewer system, mechanical work on various systems, lift upgrades and theatre upgrades.
“The department is mindful of the financial burden of high-cost maintenance. However, this needs to be continued while we work in tandem with the national Department of Health to ensure a long-term replacement of the old infrastructure.”
Charmaine Africa, of Ravensmead, has been volunteering at Tygerberg for three years, working there every week either on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.
“My job is to talk to the patients, clear and sterilise theatre equipment and help pack food items to be taken to the wards.”
Any plans to improve the hospital could only be in the best interests of the patients, she said.
George Campbell, 87, of Thornton, said the hospital had helped him greatly after his medical aid had grown too costly.
“I had a pacemaker and heart valve installed here. They also screened me for prostate cancer. I can’t complain about the level of medical care but the long waiting times are challenging. I think they should streamline their appointment dates more efficiently,” he said.
Mr Campbell said he would arrive at the hospital at 7am and only leave at 1pm.
“If you don’t have medical aid, what can you do?”
Bio-medical student Likhoma Mahamba said the long waiting times for patients at Tygerberg Hospital should be improved.
“I decided to study this because I grew up in the Eastern Cape where the level of medical services is very poor. When I finish my degree, I want to open up a pharmacy in my village or take a quarter of my salary and donate it to a hospital in the Eastern Cape. There have been many times when these township clinics run out of medication, which is unacceptable,” she said.