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Gauteng health needs intensive care

The Gauteng province's ailing health system is once again under the spotlight. Over the past few years Health MECs have promised to implement a 'turnaround strategy' and improve the situation within twelve months.

Quite simply, this hasn't happened.

In 2012 Eyewitness News revealed how a woman lost her baby at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital after waiting 18 hours to be seen by a doctor. She had seen many women being forced to give birth on the floor because there were no beds.

This triggered an investigation and a new maternity ward was promised at the facility to deal with increasing numbers of pregnant women. The focus at the time was to ensure people went to clinics first for minor issues before flooding the major hospitals.

The reality was, and still is, that there just wasn't enough space for the influx of patients. Doctors and nurses were under extreme pressure and more and more horror stories were being reported about how people were treated at public health facilities.

The then premier in the province Nomvula Mokonyane said the healthcare system was not facing a crisis.

The Health MEC at the time, Ntombi Mekgwe, promised to implement a strategy to improve things within a year. She was then removed from her office and Hope Papo took over. He admitted there were budgetary issues and that he had even asked for a bailout from government in order to pay service providers who were threatening to suspend their services.

From Qedani Mahlangu who held the position in 2009, to Mekgwe, to Papo and now again Mahlangu, the same promises have been made.

But there have been no major changes within the healthcare system.

We still hear about health suppliers not being paid and shortages of beds, equipment and staff. Gauteng desperately needs a turnaround strategy. But it's something that actually requires action and not simply be spoken about. What will it take? More promises?

Meanwhile, the Kempton Park Hospital was abandoned in 1997 apparently because it was being under-utilised. It shut its doors with millions of rands worth of equipment locked inside. Over the years the X-ray machines, incubators and beds were stolen and damaged. There are a few items left at the empty hospital but it's broken or outdated and now can now longer be used.

Government has simply left this building to slide in decay, when it could have been used to accommodate thousands of patients who are waiting for beds at facilities which are now overcrowded. No one can really answer the question as to why the expensive equipment was not repurposed.

Security guards are still being paid to patrol the property which has become useless. This is taxpayer money which could be used to improve other health facilities. Mahlangu has now promised that by the end of the year a decision will be made to either refurbish the hospital or demolish it. She says it may be too expensive to repair in its current state. The question is, why did no one push for this refurbishment years ago? Did government not anticipate that the hospital would be needed in the future, even if it wasn't being utilised at the time?

Now R31,5 billion has been allocated to the department for the new financial year. Mahlangu says all public institutions will be improved within five years. She has, however, promised that there will be major improvements generally, within a year. This is something we've heard before.

Mahlangu says it's not about throwing money at the problem; it's about working hard with existing resources and addressing inefficienciess within the system. Let's hope that this time she can deliver and that Gauteng will become a place where visiting a hospital will not be a risky experience.

Gia Nicolaides is a senior reporter at Eyewitness News. Follow her on Twitter @GiaNicolaides