Despite the billions of Rand that were pumped into medical facilities at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is nothing to next to nothing to show for it and some facilities, like the Kopanong hospital, are literally falling apart
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Gauteng government has spent billions on the construction of several so-called Field Intensive Care Unit hospitals.
There were four so-called alternative build technology units, which were commissioned at the height of the pandemic in 2020, to provide extra bed capacity during the first wave.
Of the four units, the Kopanong hospital is in the worst shape and has generated the largest amount of wasteful expenditure.
The project has already cost taxpayers in excess of R208 million, but instead of a gleaming, high-tech modern hospital, all there is to show for this is the rotting carcass of an abandoned construction project.
Not a single section of the facility is open or complete, and millions more would have to be spent to get the facility fit for use.
Speaking to The Citizen on Thursday, Mark Heywood from the Treatment Action Campaign said: “It’s a complete mess, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has investigated this, but their report is yet to be published, I believe it’s part of a report that is now with the President.”
Upon visiting the hospital on Friday, The Citizen found little evidence that the hospital would be able to operate any time soon. Visitors are greeted by incomplete building structures with no roofing, surrounded by long grass.
Some medical workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the situation there and at the old hospital had been deteriorating for a long time, with no visible urgency shown in fixing the problems.
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Ward councilor for the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Emfuleni municipality, Daddy Mollo described the situation at Kopanong as worrying.
He planned to raise the matter during President Cyril Ramaphosa’s imbizo in Emfuleni on Friday.
AngloGold Ashanti Hospital
Another project which absolutely haemorrhaged money is the AngloGold Ashanti Hospital on the West Rand, which cost about R700 million to refurbish and staff, yet only provided low-level care to fewer than 200 patients since the height of the pandemic.
The building was donated to government by AngloGold Ashanti, yet the lease was never finalised, nor was ownership of the building transferred to the department.
And despite the massive cost outlays, the acting Gauteng Health MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko, had recently informed DA MPL Jack Bloom in a written reply to his questions in the Gauteng legislature, that the department does not intend to use the hospital any further.
According to Nkomo-Ralehoko: “The department has since terminated the lease and has no intention to continue with the project. There is no planned work for the financial year and in future.”
Earlier this week, Bloom fumed at the waste of money.
“This is a shattering admission of a massive waste of money that should have been spent on improving existing hospitals that desperately need more staff and equipment,” he said.
Reports confirmed that only 147 Covid patients were treated at the hospital since Premier David Makhura partially opened it in May last year.
It was supposed to have 181 ICU beds, but none of these were completed and only 56 ordinary beds were available for patients.
“Originally, they were going to spend R50 million on it for Covid patients, but the Gauteng Command Council mysteriously took a decision to upgrade the project to ICU beds. This was a stupid decision for a hospital far from major population centres,” Bloom said.
“It is no surprise that the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is investigating possible corruption in the refurbishment contracts for the hospital.”
Chris Hani Baragwanath
Heywood also raised alarm at the repurposed 500 bed Covid facility at the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital, which was apparently also massively under-utilised during the pandemic, despite the province’s other facilities bursting at the seams.
The facility was upgraded at a cost of more than R500 million.
“There is a big uncertainty as to how and when that facility will be repurposed and made functional,” said Heywood.
George Mukhari Academic hospital
The fourth facility that has raised question marks is an upgraded unit at the George Mukhari hospital in Ga-Rankuwa, which despite having been completed is not being used at all, despite over R200 million having been spent on it.
Heywood said according to information he has received, the unit is likely to be used a general ward, yet it is unclear when this will happen.
Heywood said the total cost of these hospital extensions is probably more than R1 billion, adding that the current situation is a scandal that needs to be thoroughly investigated.
The DA’s Gauteng Health spokesperson Jack Bloom described all the facilities as ‘failures’.
“These units were meant to be emergency facilities but all that they are is failed projects where billions of Rands were spent. It’s a shame.
“The only field hospital which was completed is the Nasrec one, but this facility has also been grossly under-utilized,” Bloom added.
Facilities will be repurposed
The department of Health in Gauteng responded to The Citizen’s questions about the abandoned projects, saying some of the facilities will be repurposed.
“… due to the introduction of community immunity, vaccination and other factors, the need for additional medical capacity to treat Covid-19 was not necessary,” said the department’s Motaletale Modiba.
“The ABTs are all earmarked for different health needs based on the health needs of the particular regions. For example Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital is being repurposed into a multidisciplinary oncology centre, while Bronkhortspruit hospital is currently using the additional beds to increase its health service offering.
“Dr. George Mukhari hospital has also started theirs for primary health care purposes (a gateway clinic and onsite midwife obstetric birthing unit) and Jubilee hospital is also using theirs for additional bed capacity for Intensive Care Unit/High Care patients.”
The department did not respond to questions regarding the situation at the incomplete, abandoned Kopanong hospital, and referred questions regarding the costs of the facilities to the provincial infrastructure department.
When contacted for comment, the department of Infrastructure referred The Citizen back to the health department, saying it had handed over all Covid-19 facilities.