Long queues at health centres frustrate chronic patients

The queue inside Gugulethu Clinic. Photos: Noluthando Matshoba.

The night before David Mashaba (64) needs to go for his monthly checkup and collect his medication at the Gugulethu Clinic, he sets his alarm to 4am in order to get to the City-run clinic by 5.30.
Even though the clinic only opens at 7, there is already a long queue of people lined up before sunrise in the hope that, by being among the first in line, they’ll get out by 3pm, indicative of the achingly slow administrative and medical processes due to the high number of patients and low number of staff at the clinic.

Guguletu, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

It is a process Mashaba says he has had to endure every month for the last two years when he discovered he suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes.

He said that when the clinic doors open at 7am, everyone queues at reception to obtain their medical folder, and then waits for about an hour-and-a-half before being called to another room. There he’ll wait for another 45 minutes until a nurse does a basic medical checkup.

Thereafter, he spends another three hours waiting to see the doctor with his check up results, before going to queue for a further hour to receive his medication from the dispensary.

This means it is impossible for him to work on the day he goes to the clinic and has to take leave from his job. As a contractor who operates under the ‘no work, no pay’ system, the clinic costs him a day’s wages.

A mother, who asked that her name not be published, said she took her 15-year-old daughter to the Gugulethu clinic when she was suffering from fever and severe pain.

She said the sister at the clinic gave her daughter an injection and told her to go to the shop to buy medication as there was none available at the dispensary. Having no money to buy medication, she had to take out an informal loan at exorbitant interest rates.

A number of residents of Gugulethu and KTC whom the clinic serves as their primary healthcare facility, say the service is poor and it seems doctors and nurses are either slow or overloaded with work. Additionally, the dispensary often runs out of stock.

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Western Cape Department of Health spokesperson, Monique Johnstone, said complaints about the long queues at the Gugulethu Community Day Centre have been received and that the long queue in the morning is a result of chronic patients coming to collect their medication, which usually clears by 10am.

Johnstone said that although the queues are long, clients are assisted speedily, and there are also Chronic Clubs which chronic patients attend weekly where their medication collection dates are given to alleviate waiting times.

She said there were also offsite chronic dispensing units (CDUs) where clients can collect their medication closer to home.

One of the major factors contributing to long queues at the clinic was patients who do not comply with appointment dates provided by the Chronic Clubs, she said. This means that they have to follow the system of making an appointment and queueing to be examined by a clinician before obtaining medication.

Although the clinic serves up to 23,000 patients per month, with about 5,000 chronic patients being served, it is unacceptable for the pharmacy department to be telling people to purchase their own medication.

“This is not condoned at the facility,” Johnstone said. “If there are complaints of this nature, then the facility manager must be notified immediately. Certain items are no longer supplied and if there is an item that is not available then the client will be informed to come collect it at a later date.”

For complaints, people can contact the Complaints Hotline on 0860 142 142 or send a ‘please call me’ to 079 769 1207 or email service@westerncape.gov.za and a consultant will be available to assist the person. Clients must ensure that they provide the hotline with the required information, being their name, surname, contact number, ID and folder number as well as a detailed description of the complaint.

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