Charlotte Maxeke blaze: A year on and nowhere near ready despite promises

Saturday marks exactly a year since parts of the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital were gutted by a blaze – and the facility is nowhere near full functionality.

The third-floor parking at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital collapsed following a fire that began on Friday, 16 April 2021. Patients were moved and the hospital was closed for seven days. Picture: Twitter/@GautengProvince

JOHANNESBURG - Saturday marks exactly a year since parts of the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital were gutted by a blaze – and the facility is nowhere near full functionality.

The fire, which started in block four of the hospital, raged overnight and was only fully contained about a day later, resulting in extensive damage to other parts of the building.

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Over 840 patients were referred to 17 different facilities, including the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic and Helen Joseph Hospitals.

This was while South Africa was in the grips of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hours after the fire broke out, Gauteng Premier David Makhura came out to reassure the people of his province, saying, "It is not an easy decision that we had to make but within seven days, we are confident that hospital services will be resumed."

But a year on and the facility is not fully operational.

The hospital’s Clinical Director Dr Jayshina Punwasi had to explain why.

“We planned to have the accident and emergency areas in December 2021, however, when we were on-site the engineers said 'Doc, I'm sorry but we can't open this area, it's not safe for patients to come in' so we decided not to open the facility."

While the hospital’s Oncology Unit is up running the centre has been without emergency and trauma units since the blaze.

The facility has also faced several incidents of vandalism, theft and poor workmanship causing further delays to its reopening.

When the National Council of Provinces visited the hospital in March the National Health Department’s Infrastructure head Ayanda Dakela made some promises.

“The Emergency Unit is almost 96% complete. We are hoping to hand over operation before the end of April."

Dakela promised not only to deliver but also for half of what was budgeted.

Initially, infrastructure development had earmarked R1.7 billion for the project but Dakela said he would get it done for just R728 million.

SAFETY AT RISK

Another part of the facility that was affected was its parking area with a capacity of 1,900 cars, which has meant staff must park outside the facility that had resulted in an increase in crime around the hospital.

The hospital has had to add the number of security personnel to sometimes walk staff to their cars but this was unsustainable.

The Health Department’s Infrastructure Unit has promised a hand over of the entire completed hospital by the end of next year.