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By Jarryd Westerdale

Digital Journalist

Gauteng Health MEC confirms number of patients awaiting surgery tops 38 000

Patients can wait up to five years for a hip replacement as hospitals deal with no-shows, insufficient post-op ICU beds and staff vacancies.

The full scale of Gauteng’s medical needs were revealed by questions posed in the provincial legislature.

DA Gauteng’s Shadow MEC for Health MPL Jack Bloom asked MEC for Health, Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko, about the efficiency with which state hospitals were performing elective surgeries.

As per the MEC’s written response, the current waiting list for surgeries at state run facilities in the province totals 38 164 patients.

She noted that Gauteng has a centrally monitored surgical database, with the numbers showing the need for treatment having increased by roughly 2 000 patients since the same period last year.

ALSO READ: Gauteng Health decreases surgeries backlog, but thousands still waiting

2023 surgery backlog cleared

In July 2023, Nkomo-Ralehoko launched what became known as the surgical marathon project.

“Approximately 8 000 orthopaedic surgeries and over 5 000 cataract surgeries were successfully completed, among others. All patients were discharged with no reported complications,” she stated.

This project cleared a backlog of roughly 36 000 in nine months and the MEC stressed the current waiting list is made up of new cases.

Gauteng hospital waiting list numbers

Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria has the longest waiting list, with 7 366 patients in line for treatment.  

Chris Hani Baragwanath and George Mukhari Academic Hospitals were next in line with 4 958 and 4 627 patients, respectively.

Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital has a backlog of 3 777 patients, while Tshwane District Hospital, which is at the same premises as the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, has a backlog of 2 531 patients.

Kalafong, Tembisa, Helen Joseph, Mamelodi and Sebokeng each have a waiting list ranging from roughly 1 400 to 1 900 patients.

Challenges at Gauteng hospitals

Responding to logistical obstacles at specific hospitals, the MEC noted that patients at Chris Hani Baragwanath are lost track of when they are between follow ups, and that some patients did not arrive for scheduled procedures.

ALSO READ: Gauteng Health in overdrive to clear forensic backlogs

At Charlotte Maxeke, the facility had a shortage of ICU capacity for post-op ICU stays. Additionally, the facility’s theatre experienced extreme fluctuations in temperature and operations are cancelled due to the unavailability of consumables.  

At the smaller hospitals, a constant growth in patient demand and the unpredictable need for emergency care overrode elective procedures.

Long waits for hip replacements

Hip replacements and cataract surgeries are among the most common elective procedures, with hip operation patients waiting nine months at the Charlotte Maxeke and Edenvale facilities.

Alarmingly, the MEC stated wait times at Chris Hani Baragwanath, Steve Biko, Helen Joseph and Kalafong was a staggering five years.

For cataracts, wait times for surgery ranged from five months at Charlotte Maxeke to two years at Mamelodi Hospital.

MEC Nkomo-Ralehoko added major reasons for the long waiting lists include staff vacancies, limited theatre time, infrastructure problems, and water and power cuts.

ALSO READ: Gauteng health department faces backlash for Cuban doctor hiring

Hospitals are exempt from load shedding, but procedures are rescheduled should the relevant facilities be experiencing a problem. Additionally, patients whose conditions deteriorate significantly are moved up the waiting list.

Expressing his dismay, Bloom stated: “It is disgraceful that the Gauteng provincial government cannot run a decent health service despite an enormous budget of R64.8 billion. This shows the disaster that would happen with the billions of rand needed to implement the NHI.”

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