A disgruntled couple have raised concerns about access to health care after their three-day wait to be seen at King Dinuzulu Hospital, but the hospital says that staff shortages make it impossible to attend to the 60 walk-ins that visit each day.

A man who wanted to remain anonymous said he took his wife to King Dinuzulu Hospital’s casualty facility on Monday, 29 October at 8:15pm when she complained of intense pain and a clicking noise in her neck.

The pair waited at casualty until 11:30pm and they were allegedly told to return the next day. The man said that he and his wife returned on Tuesday, 30 October at 7:30am where about 30 patients were ahead of them in the queue. After waiting all day to be seen, the man and his wife were turned away at 4:30pm when hospital staff allegedly said that the doctor was going home.

The pair returned on Wednesday, 31 October at 7:30am and again waited in vain only to be turned away at 4:10pm when staff allegedly told them that the X-ray Department was closed and they should return on Thursday, 8 November for an appointment.

“I think it’s an ongoing problem that patients are not being seen. Patients should be assisted on the same day, not in three days. I have no idea if they are understaffed,” said the man.

King Dinizulu Hospital CEO, Dr K Naidu said that staff shortages had made it impossible to see the man and his wife on the day. “The hospital is aware of patients not being seen on 30 October. This was due to staff shortages on the day in question. The number of patients seen by each doctor is approximately 30 per day. On average the hospital sees 50-60 walk-in patients, that is, unreferred patients, which poses a clinical challenge to attend to all patients timeously. Some patients need to be booked for a higher level of care at other institutions and this process is time consuming as doctors are not always able to reach the referral hospital to make bookings,” said Naidu.

Naidu added that two positions had been advertised and would be filled as soon as possible to address the staff shortage at the hospital.
Dr Imran Keeka, DA KZN Spokesperson of Health said that while he did not know the specifics of the situation, staffing is an issue in the province.

“Healthcare facilities in KZN are grossly understaffed. In a response to Parliamentary questions that the DA has submitted, we know that there are almost 8 000 vacancies in KZN health. This is for critical and non-critical posts. The department will be filling only 49 of 2002 non critical posts this year which amounts to filling around 0.8% vacancies,” said Keeka.
Keeka also encouraged the community to use clinics for treatment of minor ailments and allow clinic staff to refer them to the best place for treatment.
“Hospitals such as King Dinuzulu provide a higher level of care and are generally not walk in facilities.

“They have a decent emergency unit and will not turn away emergencies. Patients must understand that if they visit large referral hospitals for ailments that can be seen in clinics or district hospitals, priority will be given to those already booked at the larger facilities and the bigger emergencies they see. Inadvertently, through a triage system, people will end up waiting longer.

In other words, it is best if it is not a life threatening emergency, to start at a clinic closest to you and then, depending on the severity of your condition you will be referred to the correct facility for your care.

While this advice is general, it is not always the rule,” said Keeka.