OUTPATIENTS at government hospitals in Bulawayo were left stranded yesterday after being turned away due to critical staff shortage, as the doctors’ strike continues countrywide.
By SINDISO DUBE
A survey conducted at Bulawayo hospitals showed that many patients were not being attended to, particularly those who needed doctors’ expertise.
Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association gave the government a 21-day ultimatum to resolve doctors’ concerns last month.
After the ultimatum lapsed, doctors at government institutions embarked on a strike on March 1.
A Bulawayo city centre resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity yesterday, said he took a relative who had suffered a fracture to the United Bulawayo Hospitals, but had to turn to a private facility after failing to get help.
“I went to UBH with my relative who had suffered a fracture on the hand and we found a long queue, only to discover that there were no doctors and we could not be attended to,” he said.
“I had to take my relative to a private health centre in the city, where he got a plaster. The problem is that there is no notice to alert patients that doctors are on strike. One has to waste money to go to the hospital only to be turned away.”
Several patients, who went to Mpilo Central Hospital yesterday, said they were being turned away and those who could afford ended up taking their relatives to private health institutions, while the poor, who banked their hope on public hospitals, were left stranded.
A visit to Mpilo by Southern Eye established that there were only a few senior doctors attending to emergencies.
“Our patients are made to wait for hours before they get attention. Even a person who is supposed to be doing consultation is not there,” one resident, who took a relative to Mpilo hospital, said.
Stanley Kambarame, from Makokoba, who had injured his hand, bemoaned the delay in service delivery.
“I came here bleeding after I got injured on my hand, but only got attended after two hours of sitting on these benches. Now I am waiting for them to do an X-ray, but there is no one to do that. So I will wait,” he said.
Sheila Ncube said she had been watching patients being taken away to other private hospitals.
“I came here in the morning, but it’s after lunch now and I have not been treated. I am seeing those who can afford private attention taking their relatives and friends to other centres, where they will be attended to quickly,” she said.
One patient challenged the government to resolve doctors’ issues to save lives.
“I came with my wife here for an operation after being transferred from United Bulawayo Hospital. It took more than the stated number of days for her to be attended to. We thank God that she is still alive,” he said.
“The problem is they are under-staffed. Junior doctors, who are on strike ,are needed to help the senior ones. The specialist, who treated my wife, openly said he is facing problems because he is doing it alone. The government should do something to save lives before things get worse here.”
Meanwhile, Mpilo hospital clinical director, Solwayo Ngwenya yesterday called on medical practitioners to end the strike to save lives.
“I urge doctors to return to work and negotiate with the government while at work. In this case, it will be difficult for them to get what they are demanding when they are outside the system, they will achieve very little. That’s my advice to them,” he said.
Ngwenya said Mpilo was only attending to emergency cases.
The striking doctors accused the government of failing to procure adequate hospital equipment and essential drugs to allow them to provide quality service to patients at district and central hospitals.
Doctors also called for the uplifting of a blanket freeze on recruitment of doctors and other health workers with immediate effect.
This includes creation of more than sufficient posts to absorb the current interns at central and district hospitals and government officers, to curb service understaffing nationwide.
Mpilo Hospital Doctors’ Association president, Mxolisi Ngwenya said they were not going back to work until their grievances were resolved.
“We are professionals and people too. Let the ministry offer us a solution so that we don’t keep striking every year. We want to go back to work urgently, but refuse to have our demands and concerns ignored,” he said.
“When we met the government officials on Tuesday, they were playing a game of words in addressing issues and we requested tangible commitment in ink, but to no avail.
“They said they will take up our issues with relevant offices and seek a mandate, then we will meet nine days later, but given their history, we know these are delaying tactics. This is the same board that has failed to deliver since four years ago and they are negotiating in bad faith.”