Hospital early birds catch the … queue

Patients fill a waiting room just after 5am at Mitchells Plain day hospital.

When I joined the queue outside the facility at 4.45am, there were already 20 people there – some had appointments to see a doctor, some did not, while others were there to collect medication.

Their rationale for queueing so early is they can avoid spending all day at the hospital.

The patients come prepared with sandwiches and blankets, and wait their turn. Many did not want to be named because they attend the day hospital every month and fear victimisation should they criticise the facility.

The man first in line said he was there since 3am and that he had things to do at home after his hospital visit.

The facility opens for non-trauma patients at 5am.

Muneerah Fielies, from Beacon Valley, brought her neighbour to the trauma unit for oxygen because she is an asthma patient, and she stayed to join the queue to collect spectacles.

Ms Fielies, who is familiar with the waiting system, said everyone would be helped.

“I come every month for my medication and every second month to see the doctor.”

She said patients should come prepared to wait.

“It is called a day hospital, so be prepared to spend the day.”

Another woman, who did not want to be named, said she comes to fetch her elderly neighbour’s medication.

She said staff were busy and the revamp of the reception was necessary because patient folders were lying on the floor (“Health centre upgrades,” Plainsman letters, September 11).

“They need some kind of system and someone to guide patients as to where they need to go,” she said.

Many in the queue came to fetch medication. Once inside the hospital, they had to check if their names were on a appointment list and then proceed to the neighbouring Eastridge clinic, which opens at 7am. Chronic medicine is being dispensed from there during the renovations. The renovations are expected to be completed by December.

Monique Johnstone, provincial Department of Health spokeswoman, asked that patients stick to their appointment times, especially while the main reception area for patients and staff was under construction.

The day hospital’s three patient folder filing rooms are to be combined into one, and the waiting area will be doubled in size.

The hospital treats about 30 000 patients a month and is the largest facility of its kind in the metro, seeing patients from Mitchell’s Plain, Crossroads, Inzame Zabantu (Browns Farm) and beyond.

According to Ms Johnstone, appointments can be made in person or telephonically. Each department has its own appointment system and 30 patients are taken during two-hour-long time slots at 7am, 9am and 11am.

There is also a special express system for chronic patients. It treats 20 patients in appointment slots, every half hour, from 7.30am to 12.30pm.

Fifty patients are taken in the hourly slots from 8am until noon to collect medication repeats. The Chronic Dispensing Unit does repeats from 8am onwards.

Ms Johnstone said the facility could stagger these appointments as well, but would need buy-in from patients.

At this site, approximately 400 patient medicine parcels are collected daily.

The Plainsman asked whether the appointment system worked since patients still queued from the early morning hours because the feared they would not get help if they came later.

Ms Johnstone said the appointment system could work well, provided patients adhered to their allocated time slots.

“Patients have the perception that when they come early, they are helped earlier. This actually adds to their overall waiting time.

“Patients come as early as 4.30am, when their appointments are only later. There is no need for them to arrive this early when they have an appointment. This just adds to the congestion in the facility,” she said.

Patients’ waiting times differ and those who do not have appointments wait longer.

“Waiting times can also be impacted, when life-threatening cases arrive at the facility.”

These cases are then prioritised over cases that are not life-threatening.

“The huge demand for services and influx of patients contribute towards waiting times and don’t always match the capacity at hand and patients often wait longer than expected,” she said.

Patients in the queue complained of a bottleneck at the pharmacy, but the department says the facility has sufficient staff at its pharmacy and the logjam is because of patients not sticking to their appointments and defaulters who now have to queue for medication which they were meant to collect on their appointment date.

Among people in the queue, are those who collect medication on behalf of others. This arrangement is a personal one between the patient and the neighbour or family member.

The facility has an internal arrangement where one person is allowed to collect medication for him or herself and one extra person, but at the facility only and with the person’s approval.

Ms Johnstone said it would be business unusual until December, while the main reception was under construction.

Community members and pa-
tients accessing the services have been made aware of the process.

“Until construction is completed, we do have staff directing patients intermittently.

“We suggest that patients ask the reception staff or approach another staff member for directions if they are not sure where to go, but first point of call will be reception,” she said.

The hospital’s emergency unit and labour ward operate 24/7 while day services are operational from Monday to Friday, from 7am to 4pm.

Patients can submit written complaints to the facility’s managers by making use of the complaint boxes throughout the facility or asking to speak to a manager. Call the provincial complaints hotline on 0860 14 21 42, email service@
westerncape.gov.za or send a please call me to 079 679 1207.

Patients can also contact the facility’s health committee if they have a complaint.

For more information, call committee chairman James Diedrichs on 078 186 5052 and Ward 79 councillor Solomon Philander at 083 690 7772.