Tembisa Hospital in Ekurhuleni, one of the designated hospitals for managing the Covid-19 cases, has no new “legacy” infrastructure to show-off post-Covid-19 yet the Gauteng government has spent millions of rands on “barrack-style field hospitals” that were not fully utilised almost two years since the beginning of the pandemic.
During the start of the pandemic the national and provincial governments promised billions of rands to refurbish some of the existing medical facilities and build new ones that sought to increase bed capacity post Covid-19.
The Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) spent hundreds of millions of rands on field hospitals which were either decommissioned or have become “white elephants”.
The Nasrec field hospital that was decommissioned after it was built at a cost of R248 million is an example.
Another Gauteng hospital which was refurbished at a cost of more than R540m to treat Covid-19 patients is alleged to have turned into a white elephant six months since it’s completion.
Some health experts criticised the structures for being not fit for purpose and warned that billions of rands more could be wasted instead of being spent on construction of permanent, additional ICU beds in the existing facilities and expanding and refurbishing its health-care facilities.
Tembisa Hospital CEO Dr Ashley Mthunzi said the Covid-19 budget was allocated to the provincial health government and it had to divide it for its facilities.
He said they were allocated a budget for employee remuneration and did not do any adjustments to the existing hospital’s infrastructure.
“We were given a certain number of positions that we needed to fill.
“We were allowed to fill positions in the first, second and third waves, with contracts that were going to lapse on March 31.
“In total as an institution we received R35m in compensation of employees in this financial year which was a drastically increase compared with the previous financial year 2020/21 where we were allocated R27m.
“So it has increased,” said Mthunzi who was recently appointed as a permanent CEO after being in an acting position for almost a year.
He said in terms of goods and services such as PPEs and oxygen usage utilisation, they were centralised since the beginning of Covid-19 almost two years ago.
“So you can’t come here look for a budget for PPEs and say hey man ’how much was allocated to you?’
“Nothing was allocated in terms of consumables and PPEs because it was centralised… so I cannot attest to that,” he said.
He said almost 90% of Covid-19 posts have been filled.
He however bemoaned the high workforce turnover due to job insecurity.
Mthunzi said the infrastructural budget was not allocated and they still maintain the same buildings.
“We did not get a surplus for infrastructure.
“Remember infrastructure in health is operated by an implementing agency called the department of infrastructure development (DID) that sits with a 90% maintenance (budget) and we sit with 10% maintenance.
“So infrastructure we did not get anything on capital expenditure that actually speaks to new buildings.
“So you are saying show me where you built a Covid-19 unit, remember I am not in charge of the capital expenditure budget,” he said.
“I am not in charge of new structures.
“I am in charge of maintaining this infrastructure with this 10%, it is the DID the landlord is the one that is responsible for maintenance mandatory statute and all the construction.
“So it will then follow that your infrastructure budget for Covid-19 sits with DID.
“DID is the one that must implement not the health department,” he said.
Asked if there are any new wards that have been built, he responded: “In my facility there is nothing like that.
“There were tents that were erected and there were tents that were borrowed but there was no expansion that was deliberate to talk to us about Covid-19.
“Actually it’s me who actually made everything.
“It’s the agility of the CEO of that institution. There is no institution that can claim that it actually had an infrastructural Covid budget…
“So I am pointing to DID while you ask them what happened to the budget for infrastructure and show us, so that they can point to you that we built an ABT (alternative building technology) here we built ABT there. Some hospitals never benefited like my hospital in an ABT ”
When asked to explain how this has affected the running of the institute, he said “significantly.” :''I tried to tell the world and the world was not listening, that we were busting at our seams before Covid-19.
“So if we were busting at our seams before Covid-19 what is happening to your seams now?
“You are not busting but you are actually exposed.”
In spite of all these challenges, Mthunzi highlighted some of the new improvements that the hospital has implemented, such as the four bulk oxygen plants that have been recently built to alleviate the shortages of oxygen.
The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the country’s shortage in hospital bed capacity.
GHoD has been allocated a R56.5bn budget for 2021/2022 financial year.
It was announced by the Gauteng Health MEC Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi while delivering the department’s budget vote in June last year.
Mokgethi said the health infrastructure would be allocated R2.3bn to help improve health facilities.
Asked to explain how the budget allocated for hospital infrastructure GDoH spokesperson Kwara Kekana said: “Please be advised that the team has indicated that the request is not easy as a lot of validation and reconciliation work has to be done, is not a simple task.
“As a result we will not be able to meet the deadline.”