‘Health centre turned us away’

Patients at the Heideveld Community Health Centre and emergency unit, have complained that they are being turned away from the facilities.

Patients at the Heideveld Community Health Centre (CHC) have accused the staff of not dealing with emergencies efficiently, having a lack of work ethic and a bad attitude.

The Heideveld Health Committee expressed concern over a growing number of people approaching them to complain about being “turned away from essential emergency services”.

Tasneem Pretorius is among those who said that she had been turned away, claiming that she had been told the CHC was about to close for the day, and that she had to go to the emergency unit later that evening – this despite presenting with severe chest pains.

“When I initially got the pain on my chest, I thought that I maybe hurt a muscle, but when the pain got worse, I went to the CHC on Wednesday November 15. The nurse took my blood pressure, but I was then told that the doctor cannot see me as the CHC was about to close,” she said.

“When I got to the emergency unit later that evening, I was told that I had a slight heart attack, and that there had been some damage to my heart,” said Ms Pretorius.

“The staff at the emergency unit was so helpful, unlike the service I received at the CHC earlier. My heart was monitored on a machine, and they did various tests. I was also admitted there and was discharged two days later,” Ms Pretorius said.

She added that she was concerned as it was not the first time she had been turned away from the CHC.

“When I was younger, the service was good, but it has gone down now. Some staff have an attitude, especially the ones at Room 8 – the emergency room. Some of them stand around there with their phones.

“A few years ago, I went there with severe abdominal pain. I was only given pain tablets, despite me asking the nurse for a pregnancy test. They denied me the latter. When I could no longer bear the pain when I got home, I phoned Groote Schuur Hospital and I was told to come in immediately. I had an emergency operation. It turned out I had an ectopic pregnancy. I lost my two fallopian tubes and one ovary,” Ms Pretorius said.

When Gaynor Kemp rushed her mother, Joan Kay, 69, to the facility on Tuesday November 21, as she too had had severe chest pain, they were allegedly told to come back the next day, as staff had “other emergencies to attend to”.

“I insisted they see to my mother, and refused to come back the next day. My mother had a referral letter from a doctor. They saw she could not breathe properly, and yet they did not want to attend to her. I insisted they do her vitals at least, and after they checked her out, she was sent to the back of the hospital and she could not have an escort with her. I was forced to come home, and the next day, on Wednesday November 22, they phoned me to say my mother had been transferred to Groote Schuur hospital. Her heart beat was not regular and she was at risk of blood clotting,” Ms Kemp said.

The patients are also sceptical to use the complaints and compliments box at the CHC, as they feel their concerns are not being taken seriously.

Monique Johnstone, spokesperson for the Western Cape health department, explained that the CHC is open from Monday to Friday, from 7am to 4.30pm, and the emergency unit is operational with 24 hours access for emergency treatment only and “should not be used as a community health day centre”.

Ms Johnstone added: “The complaints box is checked on a weekly basis by management and any issues are addressed immediately. We cannot address complaints that do not come directly to the facility without all of the relevant information and contact details of the complainant. Our policy is to treat all patients seeking healthcare. In order to triage patients accordingly, vital signs would have to be taken to determine the severity of the illness.

“Any concerns regarding staff attitudes should be addressed immediately with the facility manager, operational manager or the quality assurance manager in order to discuss the complaint with the staff member and have it resolved immediately. The department does not condone negative behaviour from staff as this does not form part of our values to care and respect the patient.”

Patients who would like to lay a complaint, can request to speak to the facility manager or any other manager on duty, or forward their complaint to the complaints hotline. Posters are placed in the facility with this information, Ms Johnstone said.

The Complaint Hotline can be reached by sending a “please call me” to 079 769 1207, or call 0860 142 142, or email service@westerncape.gov.za