Elderly women picket outside Nyanga clinic demanding better service

They say that there are stock-outs on certain medications, long queues and missing folders

By Vincent Lali

17 May 2023

Sindiswa Godwana of Usindiso Community Development led a protest mostly by elderly women outside the Nyanga clinic on Tuesday. Photo: Vincent Lali

Dozens of mostly elderly women with walking sticks picketed at the gates of Nyanga Community Health Centre on Tuesday. They want the provincial health department to improve services and hire more doctors.

Patients have been complaining about poor services at the clinic. They say that there are stock-outs on certain medications, there are long queues, and folders go missing.

Last week, the Western Cape health department said officials are working to improve services “while trying to accommodate a growing community”. The communications officer said that “corrective measures to improve the quality of care to patients” would be put in place when complaints were reported.

On Tuesday, the women gathered outside the clinic with placards which read: “We want more doctors,” and “We need a bigger clinic”.

Sindiswa Godwana, chairperson of Usindiso Community Development, said, “The nurses say three doctors work here, but we see only one doctor working. The lone doctor battles to handle the large number of sick residents. The nurses hastily arrange for them to see the doctor another time, while they are sick now.”

“We want the department to employ more doctors so that residents can get treatment immediately.”

Godwana said that on days when the clinic is full, nurses instruct the guard to keep patients outside.

She said that there is little space inside the clinic and often patients have to wait in the cold and rain outside. Godwana said some elders, desperate to get medical treatment, now hire young people to queue for them from as early as 3am.

“Residents with chronic diseases used to have their own space inside the clinic, but not any more. Now they are confused about where to stand and wait for their medications.”

She said during a workshop she held in Nyanga she found that patients lacked information about their medication. “One resident said she takes her high blood medication only when she feels sick.”

Another protester, Nomfundiso Cimi, complained that clinic staff had lost her son’s folder in February this year. She regularly collects ARVs for her son, who also takes medication for epilepsy and TB meningitis. “Because they lost his folder, they no longer give all the medications they used to give,” she said.

Staff nurse Philiswa Makhaza came outside the clinic and wrote down a list of the elders’ grievances and demands.

“The points you have raised are valid. We will discuss how to address them and revert to you,” she said.

In response to the protest on Friday, the department’s Johnstone apologised to the community for the challenges. “The facility has many chronic patients that are provided with appointment slots. The majority of our chronic patients are elderly making it hard to fast-track the high number of elderly patients accessing services on a daily basis simultaneously, although we do try to reach all of them as quickly as possible,” she said.

“On days when it is raining, the more physically vulnerable and frail people and children under 5 years are fast-tracked. With limited space it can get full inside the facility quickly meaning some clients stand under the veranda.”

On the complaint that there were not enough doctors on duty, Johnstone said, “We do not have a shortage of medical officers. The facility is nurse driven and doctor supported. Seriously ill patients and those with appointments, and who are scheduled to see the doctor, are assessed by the medical officers on duty.”