Services resume at Themba Hospital

Nelspruit, 19 April 2018 – Yesterday 50 members of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in Mpumalanga held a sit at the office of the provincial MEC of Health and Head of Department. The sit in took place as a last resort following the three week strike at Themba Hospital that had intensified into a complete shut-down of services since Friday 13 April. The shut-down was directly threatening the lives and well-being of patients admitted to and trying to access services at the hospital.

TAC members entered the provincial Department of Health offices just before 10h00 and were given a meeting with the Deputy Director General two hours later. In addition to the concerns regarding the strike, TAC also raised the following issues with the provincial health team representatives (including the Chief Director of Human Resources and Development Manager and the Chief Director of Hospital Service) that had been raised by community members and witnessed first-hand during ongoing TAC fact-finding missions at the hospital:

  • An ongoing water shortage at the hospital that is: causing the toilets to be blocked and very dirty; forcing patients to bath in a small amounts of cold water and having to request family members to bring additional water for them; and meaning infants are being born and sent home without being washed;
  • Many windows, tiles and chairs are broken in the OPD, waiting area and other areas;
  • Some laundry machines are broken leading to the costly outsourcing of laundry services and in some cases patients wearing dirty gowns and sleeping in unclean beds for several days. Maternity wards patients have to do their own laundry;
  • Doctors are unable to operate because they cannot sterilise equipment;
  • The food supply is inadequate, patients have been fed tinned fish and beans only for almost a month;
  • There is a major shortage of staff (including doctors and nurses) that severely impacts on long waiting times and worsens staff attitudes to patients using the facility;
  • The facility heating system is faulty, forcing amongst other things patients to bath with cold water; and
  • The refrigerators in the mortuary are not functioning, despite media reports that this issue has been rectified.

The provincial Department of Health committed to escalate these issues to the newly appointed Acting CEO of Themba Hospital. In addition they committed to develop a turnaround plan based on the challenges identified that will be shared with TAC at a meeting with the MEC of Health and HOD scheduled for 8 May 2018. We will publish the outcomes of the meeting after it takes place.

By the end of the day, the shut-down of services had ended at Themba Hospital. At the time that the TAC team left the Hospital the OPD had reopened, the pharmacy was again dispensing medicines, and the kitchen had resumed duty to ensure patients who had been without food, in some cases since Sunday, were fed. 

For more information contact:

Nqobile Shabalala | TAC Mpumalanga Chairperson | 071 886 7735 
Owen Nhlanhla
| TAC Mpumalanga Provincial Officer Bearer | 079 257 5744 
Bellinda Setshogelo | Provincial Manager | 082 622 4481



The labour strike lead to the following issues as reported in a statement issued on 17 April 2018 available here:

– Patients have been turned away from the OPD waiting area and redirected to use other hospitals. This is a financial burden on the poor and often unemployed community members who use this facility. There have been no OPD services since Friday 13 April. This also means patients who have been due to return for follow up appointments and planned procedures are not being seen. This will lead to more health complications for these people. No files can be retrieved.

– The kitchen was locked until the afternoon. Patients had not had any food since Sunday 15 April. This means unwell patients are hungry and some are taking medicines on empty stomachs. Some, but not all, patients have been fed with tea and bread this afternoon. Further food supplies are not available as they are locked away in another part of the hospital.

– All theatres are locked and scheduled and emergency surgeries are not taking place. One women arrived on Sunday for her scheduled C-section on Monday. There was no one at the facility to help her as she went into labour pains. Today she has yet to be helped. Other women in the maternity ward waiting for C-sections are in the same situation. One of the striking doctors told us that the cooler to sterilise tools in the surgery is broken which is not allowing any surgeries to take place.

– The pharmacy is locked. Patients who are being discharged are leaving the hospital without necessary medicines, even those in critical conditions. They are being told to go to local clinics to get the medicines they need or wait until the strike is over. They are not being given any prescriptions.

– The mortuary is locked. There are no staff servicing this area.

– Ambulances are being redirected to Rob Ferreira Hospital. Today two people were taken by air ambulance away. We are unsure as to the reason why.

– There are no cleaning or laundry services. Linen is dirty. The striking workers say that the machines to wash the linen is broken, meaning the department has been outsourcing this service. Patients are sleeping on dirty linen and wearing dirty gowns. One patient said they had been wearing the same gown for three weeks. Another told us it was a week.

– Yesterday some patients were discharging themselves due to the total lack of services despite in some cases being in critical condition. Today many more patients were being discharged in poor health conditions, and told to go to the clinic if they have complications.

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