Community Concerns About New Tsolo Hospital

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27 October 2009
Chairperson: Mr B Gogwana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Community members from Tsolo of the Mhlontlo Local Municipality of the Eastern Cape met with the Committee because they were concerned that the Eastern Cape Health Department was closing down the old St Lucy’s Hospital and replacing it with the new Tsolo Hospital despite their promise to the community, to renovate the old hospital and continue its services. Some of their concerns were that the new hospital was twenty kilometres away from St Lucy’s Hospital and this meant that it was not easily accessible by foot and it also had employment implications. Their traditional leader said that if they destroyed what was already there, it would be a retrogressive step, contrary to government’s objectives to improve the lives of the people.

The Committee said there was not much they could do on the matter because it was a matter that should be dealt with provincially. The Chairperson said that he would write a letter to the Eastern Cape MEC of Health requesting an official document stating what the department’s plans were for the old hospital.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said that he had become aware that the Tsolo community were unhappy because they did not want the opening of the new Tsolo hospital that had been built, to mean the closure of the old St. Lucy’s Hospital. He asked the Tsolo community as represented by Mr Dingaan Madala and Mr Bambelela Mbabama, Traditional Leader of the Tsolo Community, to brief the Committee on the current situation.

Mr Dingaan Madala, Community Member, said that there had been an agreement made between community members and the Eastern Cape Health Department that the new hospital would not replace the old St. Lucy’s Hospital which they promised would be renovated and used as a referral hospital. Despite this agreement, it seemed that all the hospital staff of the old hospital were relocating to the new hospital and that despite the construction of the new hospital being nearly complete there was no renovations taking place at the old hospital. He said the communities around the old hospital were concerned as it seemed that the department was not fulfilling their promise.

Mr Madala said that every time they presented these concerns to the department they were reassured that the status remained the same and that the old hospital was not closing down. However, the old hospital was practically closed because all the staff had moved to the new hospital and the building was dilapidated and empty. He believed that the next move would probably be to demolish it.

He continued that in 2007 the ambulances that belonged to the old hospital had been stolen. The department had promised to build garages for the old hospital as part of the renovations. When they approached the department about this after the ambulances were stolen, they were told that there was no point in building garages for the old hospital and they would rather have them built for the new hospital. This indicated that the new hospital was replacing the old hospital despite the promise made.

Mr Madala said that the community was very worried about losing their hospital because the hospital contributed a lot to the development of the community and the closure would negatively affect the area. He had spoken to the acting CEO who had tried to convince him that they did not need a big new hospital at St Lucy. Instead they rather needed a clinic there and that government should rather promote primary health care in the form of clinics.

The Chairperson said that when he approached the previous MEC about the plans for the new hospital in 1999 he was told that an important reason for the new hospital was the need to have it in a more central position and that the old hospital was placed in an eccentric position. However, the MEC had said that it would not mean the closure of the old hospital. Mr Gogwana said that he understood the community’s concerns about losing a lot of spin-offs that being nearby to the hospital had provided. If it were to close down, it would have an effect on employment. He reassured them that he had spoken to the MEC the previous day and that the latest news was that the old hospital was not going to be closed down.

Mr Madala said that despite having so many meeting regarding the closing down of the hospital, they were still in the dark with what was going to happen. There needed to be a master plan explaining what would happen as there had been no renovations and all the doctors had left the old hospital and relocated to the new hospital. The previous MEC had said that the old hospital would be “downgraded” and they needed to know what this meant. In the past when the hospital was running, only 110 beds out of 155 were usable even though the hospital was serving 42 villages. The MEC had said that there was a budget of R80 million to renovate the old hospital. There needed to be a master plan that showed how this would be spent. They did not know what was happening with the TB ward proposal.

He said that they wanted to appeal to the National Officials because there was no co-operation between their local government and the community. The new hospital had no running water facilities and they did not know if there would be enough water from boreholes and that there were no reservoirs in the area. They should upgrade the system and it should be made to work for the old hospital too. He believed the main problem with the old hospital was that the people were uncomfortable because of the lack of basic amenities and not because the old hospital was not serving them properly. He said they should rather have attended to this problem. They believed the problem lay with the acting CEO who was useless and did nothing. He could not even manage one hospital properly and one did not know how he would cope with two. He was always away in Mtata. He was misleading government and the MEC was always confused because of him.

Mr M Hoosen (ID) said that he wanted to know what the purpose of the meeting was as this issue was something which must be dealt with the provincial department. He asked why the Chairperson did not tell the Tsolo Community members before they arrived that the MEC had confirmed that the old hospital was not going to be closed down as this made the meeting redundant. He asked how far was the distance of the new hospital from the old hospital.

Mr M Walter (DA) asked if there was not an official document from the provincial officials stating that they would not close the old hospital and if they could have a copy of it. He also did not understand the purpose of the meeting as he knew that the Portfolio Committee could not make decisions on behalf or intervene with the government of the Eastern Cape. He asked if he could see the budget plan for the renovations of the old hospital. He said that he agreed that the meeting was unnecessary because of what the Chairperson had said about the MEC confirming that the old hospital would not close its services.

The Chairperson said that he had invited the community members because they were not getting answers from provincial department and he thought they could help them at a national level. He had  contacted the MEC and had heard from him only the day before and at that stage the community members had already arrived in Cape Town.

Mr Madala said that it did not make any difference that the MEC had said that “the old hospital would not be closed down” because in actuality everyone was moving to the new hospital and there were no renovations taking place. The Tsolo community had thought they would get more answers from the national department. They needed a written assurance of what was going to happen. There was not even a written official document with which they could confront the department and hold them liable.

Ms M Segale-Diswai (ANC) said that she did not understand why they thought the national department was better placed to deal with the issue. The Committee could not apply their minds properly to the problem as there were a lot of gaps in the information. She suggested there should be a report that they could engage with which stated the Eastern Cape Health Department’s intentions.

Ms A Luthuli (ANC) said that this was definitely something which had to be dealt with at a provincial level. The Eastern Cape MEC on Health had given them feedback the day before through the Chairperson which the community members could take home with them. She said there were many gaps that made it very difficult for the Committee to do anything. There was not much they could do.

Mr Hoosen requested that they close the meeting as there was not much the Committee could do without causing danger by opposing the provincial department.

Mr E Sulliman (ANC) said that he agreed that the meeting should be adjourned. Addressing the community members, he said that he recognised that they were worried that the department’s promise to renovate the old hospital and continue its services, would not actually happen. He suggested that they could get the Chairperson to write to the MEC and get an official written response stating what was going to happen. This would become like gospel and the community could hold their provincial government responsible for it. If the provincial government turned they back against it, they could take them to court. He had read the revitalisation plan from the Department and he got the impression that everything remained the same in terms of the plan and that it still stood. He suggested that the community members and the Committee members should look at the revitalisation plan.

Ms E More said that she recommended that they get the department to write up a full report on what had been happening and where they were currently.

Mr Bambelela Mbabama, Traditional Leader of the Tsolo Community, said that the old hospital was a flower to them, the Amapondo, and that it would be killing the flower of the nation if the hospital were to be closed. He said that it would the first time they would lose something precious and valuable. They thought that because they were under democracy rule by the ANC, they could bring their pains to the Portfolio Committee. The hospital served 42 villages and they now had to walk far and pay money to take taxis to the new hospital. If they destroyed what was already there, it would be a retrogressive step, contrary to government’s objectives to improve the lives of people.

The Chairperson said that he would take the advice of his Committee member and write an official letter to the MEC requesting him to write up an official document stating their intentions for the old hospital.


The meeting was adjourned.


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