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An Eastern Cape man exposes patients’ suffering at Bizana’s state hospital
Babsy Mpheshwa

As Babsy confronted the duty nurse, he saw his neighbour, still bent, exhausted, over the stretcher on which her son lay motionless in the deadly grip of meningitis. He had not moved since he had been brought to St Patrick’s. Babsy wondered if he would ever move again.

Babsy Mpheshwa returned to St Patrick’s Hospital, Bizana, last week to check on conditions after his sons and nephew had been forced to seek emergency medical assistance in Durban – some 200km away from the nearest local hospital – when they were involved in a serious car accident on the road between Flagstaff and Bizana in the Eastern Cape. [See Part 1 of this story here.] Babsy’s sons and nephew had sustained head injuries, a broken jaw, shoulder, ribs and arm, a badly lacerated tongue, severe bruising and other cuts and abrasions. They had been advised they would only receive treatment once transferred to Bedford Hospital in Mthatha – a total of 5 days after the accident. They were all in extreme pain, their injuries had not been cleaned for two days, they had not been examined by a doctor, nor received any medical attention. When Babsy’s brother eventually called him in desperation, Babsy drove from Durban to rescue them and brought them to Prince Mshiyeni Hospital in Umlazi, where they were immediately admitted and, he reported, received excellent care. They have all since been discharged and are making good progress, although his nephew, who sustained head injuries, must return for further checkups and be carefully monitored as he apparently remains confused after the accident.

Babsy revisited St Patrick’s Hospital last Tuesday, 14 February. He was shocked and horrified by what he saw. He took the accompanying photographs to attest to what he had witnessed. Babsy recounted the following... 


“I’ve never seen people treated like this!” Babsy confronted the nurse on duty. “Don’t call yourself a sister, call yourself a killer!”

Appalled and angry after his second visit to St Patrick’s Hospital – the place he now calls “The Mortuary” - Babsy struggled to find where he’d parked his car – tears were streaming down his face.

After his sons’ and nephew’s traumatic experience just over two weeks ago, Babsy had vowed to keep an eye on conditions at Bizana’s only public health facility – the 290-bed St Patrick’s Hospital – which, according to the Department of Health website, “services a community of around 200,000 people.”

When Babsy arrived at the hospital, he was stunned by the long queues of waiting patients, many of whom were lying, swathed in blankets on the floor. A lucky few had been given stretchers, where they now lay, seemingly forgotten, pushed against walls, in passageways and near the waiting room. They had no privacy and were subjected to the constant din made by the crowd of waiting patients. 

Patients told Babsy that the (only) doctor had left for the day at around 3pm. Nursing staff had reportedly said that as there was “no doctor on call,” patients would have to wait until about 9am the following day, when the doctor would return. Most patients would spend the night at the hospital in the hopes of catching the doctor the next day. Many were too weak to leave anyway. Or too poor to afford transport costs for another, possibly fruitless, trip to hospital. Relatives had been advised to stay overnight at the hospital to watch over sick family members.  

The previous day, patients had apparently rebelled and toyi-toyied, demanding proper service – or some service.

The Department of Health website claims St Patrick’s Hospital has “12 doctors, two clinical associates, two dentists, and numerous allied health professionals and nursing staff.”

An old woman on a stretcher, who Babsy said appeared to be alone, groaned for the duration of his visit. He said she was clearly in great pain, but no one came to attend to her.

Near the waiting room, Babsy found his neighbour leaning against a stretcher on which lay her emaciated son. She had brought him to the hospital at around 2:30 that afternoon. He was reportedly suffering from meningitis. He was not responding and did not seem to see or hear Babsy. The needle of a drip had been attached to his arm, but it remained unconnected to anything. It had apparently been like that for several hours. No one had examined him, none of the staff seemed to pay him any further attention, and his stretcher was in an area full of other patients. Meningitis is a highly contagious, often lethal disease, that, if not treated quickly, at best, can leave the patient severely brain damaged.

Babsy began taking photographs with his cellphone. He was determined that the public, the press and the authorities should see for themselves the conditions that poor people contend with at Bizana’s only state health facility. He vowed he would not rest until the community received proper medical treatment and the dignity and care they deserved.

“They treat people worse than animals!” Babsy declared. “The staff here just don’t care!”

He was equally angry with local politicians - some of whom he says he has known since the 1980s - who had gone far in provincial government structures, so far that they had apparently forgotten their community. 

In another area, Babsy was shown two women who had come in much earlier in the day. Both were extremely weak and unable to walk unaided. Both had drip needles shoved messily into their arms from which their blood was slowly being siphoned up into empty drip bags. Blood ran down one woman’s arm from the site of the drip. She had been admitted at 11am and problems with her drip had been reported to the doctor and nurses several times. But Babsy said they had “just left her,” even after he had reported it again just before he left that evening.  

There were desperately ill people, and the very elderly, who, Babsy said, very obviously needed admission to intensive care, but they were “just left lying on the floor in the waiting room.”

As Babsy confronted the duty nurse, he saw his neighbour, still bent, exhausted, over the stretcher on which her son lay motionless in the deadly grip of meningitis. He had not moved since he had been brought to St Patrick’s. Babsy wondered if he would ever move again.

As fury rose inside him, Babsy turned away from the nurse. He could do nothing more - for now. But he would be back. He would not let this lie like the sick on St Patrick’s waiting room floor. His community deserves better.



Babsy Mpheshwa on 0729682140 / 0614498666

Vanessa Burger is an independent community activist for human rights and social justice in South Africa. Email: [email protected]