Hospital staff fear for their lives at unsafe facilities

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

While they are meant to be saving lives, medical staff at Mitchells Plain Hospital fear for their safety, following recent vehicle theft and assaults at work.

Weekend Argus has been sent a copy of an internal staff email detailing safety concerns and recent crimes at the hospital.

The Western Cape health department, which oversees the hospital, confirmed security concerns at the hospital.

The hospital’s staff would not speak to this newspaper though, with one doctor saying “government employees get fired for leaking things to the media”.

In the email, sent to Weekend Argus last Friday, staff members have written to the hospital management to address their concerns “beyond lip service and the wringing of hands”.

“Some medical officers are very unhappy that another car was stolen from the hospital parking lot last night,” reads the email.

“A member of (the) public was also stabbed at the traffic circle closest to the parking area yesterday, in broad daylight. This is not very far from the hospital parking lot – only two or three hundred metres away.”

It continues that “one of the radiographers had a smash and grab at the Stock Road off-ramp the other day”.

“Members of the public are now walking in the access road to the hospital, for fear of criminals hiding in the bushes next to the sidewalk.

“There have, apparently, been a number of muggings on this road. It is a matter of time before a staff member is raped in the bushes alongside the access road.”

Hospital staff members also said “security presence in the public parking area appears to be non-existent outside of office hours”.

“The staff parking area inside the booms seems to have its issues as well. It is extremely isolated and has no security presence after-hours and especially after dark,” say hospital staff.

“It is very intimidating… Medical officers are become increasingly concerned about arriving and leaving late at night, and leaving their cars in the public parking area overnight.”

The email continues: “It seems that it is simply a matter of time before a staff member gets mugged on the hospital premises.”

Monique Johnstone, spokeswoman for the Western Cape health department, said health officials do “acknowledge that the access road and parking bay poses a security risk for staff” at the hospital.

“Staff members are constantly notified to park in a secure area at the hospital, and the department has contracted an independent security company to patrol the parking bays belonging to the hospital daily and after hours,” said Johnstone.

“Staff members who do not feel safe walking to their vehicles after hours are at all times encouraged to contact security and request to be escorted to their vehicles and stick to the designated safe routes.

“The department is planning to install an electric fence around the estate for added security measures.

“This will extend the security perimeter of the hospital to ensure maximum safety for staff and visitors entering and exiting the building.”

Johnstone confirmed a “vehicle was stolen on hospital premises” at 10pm on July 24. The Western Cape police was investigating the matter, she said.

Staff security concerns have been raised over the years at a number of provincial health facilities, particularly in high crime areas.

A doctor who used to work at the defunct GF Jooste Hospital in Manenberg recalled to Weekend Argus how they also faced security threats.

The doctor did not want to be named due to authorities reprimanding staff when speaking to the media about crime or other matters at a government facility.

“When I was at Jooste my surgical registrar from Dubai was held at gunpoint in the parking lot. Starting time was shifted so we didn’t arrive in the dark,” said the doctor.

“We had metal detectors at every entrance to check for weapons. Once gang members came into casualty to finish killing a guy they attacked outside.”

GF Jooste hospital, since its closure, has meanwhile been vandalised.

The City of Cape Town’s safety and security department earlier this month said it found there were “suspicious people on site, suspected drug offences, and two people caught in possession of stolen property”.

While the provincial government plans to replace GF Jooste with a R3-billion health facility in Manenberg’s gangland, staff safety remains uncertain.

Johnstone said medical staff at the Gugulethu Community Health Clinic have also been facing security threats.

“Gugulethu is a high risk area for crime and unfortunately this spills over to the clinic area,” she said.

“There have been threats made to staff in the past by gangsters who were also threatening security guards at the facility.”

Johnstone added: “Management has been addressing these issues with various role players for staff protection at the facility.

“Arrangements have also been made with SAPS (police) to do hourly visits to the facility, and we requested more visibility in the surrounding areas and Metro (police) and law enforcement are also part of that agreement.

“As a further measure, armed response services have been supplied for the protection of staff and patients of the facility.”

Johnston said the clinic’s management has been holding “on-going meetings with their community neighbourhood watch, ward councilors, community members and the community police forum to address these concerns and find a way forward”.

“All staff at the facility have received awareness training and counseling where possible,” she added.

Alaric Jacobs, spokesman for Groote Schuur Hospital, said they “currently do not have staff safety concerns, but are always vigilant for outside threats to patients, staff and visitors”.

“Security personnel and staff at times deal with gangsters that were shot or stabbed and admitted for treatment which in itself holds risks,” said Jacobs.

“We have installed a multi-layer security system which controls and counters possible risks of rival gangs entering our premises.”

Jacobs said the hospital’s management has been “proactive” and that “security equipment has been installed throughout the hospital”.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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