Health workers and patients protest Jooste Hospital closure

Protestors gathered outside the Provincial Legislature against closure of GF Jooster Hospital. Photo by Mary-Jane Matsolo.

Mary-Jane Matsolo

19 September 2012

About 500 health workers, patients and activists protested outside the Western Cape legislature on 10 September against the planned closure of GF Jooste hospital in 2013.

The protest was organised by the Treatment Action Campaign. The protesters were concerned that the Provincial Department of Health and City of Cape Town officials consulted neither with the communities serviced by Jooste nor hospital staff members about the closure. The closure is scheduled to start in 2013 and last three years. According to a media statement released by the Western Cape MEC of Health, Theuns Botha, in the interim patients will be moved to either Mitchells Plain or Groote Schuur hospitals depending on their disease.

“We are not against the new hospital, but why were we not told about the fact that the hospital will be closed for three years while it’s being renovated? The hospitals they are sending us to are already full with their own patients. How can you send more people to a hospital that is already full? ” one protester complained.

GF Jooste currently services a population of over 1 million people in Cape Town and is positioned in a community with a very high burden of disease.

Victor Lackay, TAC deputy-chairperson, said that a memorandum expressing their concerns was sent to the MEC of Health, the Premier’s office and the ANC in the Western Cape, none of whom responded. A memorandum handed over by the protesters called for a meeting with the MEC for Health.

An official for the Western Cape government came to accept the memorandum. He told the protestors that the MEC was at an opening ceremony and was not available to accept it. The demonstrators responded angrily and refused to hand over the memorandum. Several TAC members moved inside the building where they held a sit-in, demanding for the MEC to acknowledge them. Eventually the memorandum was accepted by ANC Member of the Provincial Legislature Mcebisi Skwatsha. The protestors are planning another picket on 27 September at the hospital.

Zameer Brey, Chairperson of the South African Medical Association (SAMA) Cape Town branch said, “GF Jooste has unique services such as the High Care Unit and the specialised ARV service, the first in the country that runs an effective system with a high compliance rate. What is going to happen to those services in the absence of Jooste?”

He further explained how there are many constructions happening while the building is still standing and wants to know why this was not taken into consideration. “While we welcome the improvements to the hospital, it can’t come at the expense of the community and make them suffer for three years,” said Brey.

Brey says that the health department should have considered a phased implementation. “While that would have been an inconvenience to the staff and patients, at least the patients lives would not be compromised. Furthermore many doctors and nurses would not worry about their future and salary cuts due to the move.”

In an email to Groundup the Western Cape Department of Health insists that they have engaged with both staff and the hospital board since early 2012. This, according to the department, will be an ongoing process between the management and stakeholders, including community representatives and staff. Director of Communications for the Western Cape Government Health, Faiza Steyn said: “All staff members will retain their jobs but will temporarily work at Groote Schuur Hospital, the new Mitchells Plain Hospital which is nearing completion, and some will work at the Heideveld temporary emergency centre.”

Steyn further explained that the department considered various options when deciding to rebuild the hospital. She said they had learned lessons with the revitalization at hospitals such as Paarl and Worcester. Based on affordability, convenience and turn-around time for the project, the most viable option was closing the hospital.