Families stranded in health-care phones crisis

DA’s health spokesperson for Gauteng, Jack Bloom. Picture: Antoine de Ras

DA’s health spokesperson for Gauteng, Jack Bloom. Picture: Antoine de Ras

Published Mar 20, 2024


Many of Gauteng hospitals’ phones haven’t been working for over five weeks, and this has left families feeling isolated and helpless, the DA’s health spokesperson for Gauteng, Jack Bloom, said on Tuesday.

This was due to payment queries lodged by the service provider Telkom.

Bloom stated that this was causing major challenges because patients and their families were unable to reach hospitals, and staff had to use their phones for critical communication.

“The department said that 32 hospitals and 83 clinics were affected. They claim this is due to disputed Telkom bills, yet it should have been resolved by now.

“I assume they simply ran out of money at the end of the financial year on March 31. Despite failing to reach critical benchmarks such as bad ambulance response times and low child immunisation rates, an enormous R2.275 billion overrun is expected.“

Bloom said he has received a complaint from a family that cannot contact the hospital their son has been admitted to.

“We have a son in Weskoppies Hospital in Pretoria, and I would just like to let you know that their telephone lines have not worked for over a month. We were given the cellphone number of the ward he is in, but it went unanswered.

“We went there yesterday to visit him, as we do every week, and the cellphone they have in the ward doesn’t work. I think for families with family members at any of these facilities, it’s a grave concern as there is no communication whatsoever,” the family said.

Bloom added that major hospitals such as Charlotte Maxeke and Steve Biko were also affected.

“This department can’t get simple things right, like paying bills on time, never mind running a decent ambulance service and immunising all children,” Bloom said.

However, the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) confirmed on Tuesday that only 11 facilities were still affected.

According to department spokesperson Tshepo Shawa, the department has processed the current invoices for payment before the end of this week, despite the fact that its dispute in relation to identified discrepancies still stands.

“The issue of invoices that have descriptions of facilities that do not belong to GDoH is still being pursued with Telkom. Affected facilities include Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, Steve Biko Academic Hospital, Pretoria West Hospital, Jubilee Hospital, Pholosong Hospital, Weskoppies Hospital, Far East Rand Hospital, Tara H Moross Psychiatric Hospital, Tshwane District Hospital, and Carletonville Hospital.

“As part of the long-term solution, the department is currently in the process of migrating its facilities to the Gauteng Provincial Voice Network system operated by the eGovernment Department, which will drastically reduce the costs of communication within institutions and externally.

“Already, the majority of our facilities have been migrated to the new system. We wish to apologise for the inconvenience that has been caused to the public who have been trying to contact various facilities. Alternative contact numbers can be accessed on the provincial government’s website, www.gauteng.gov.za.

“Once the payment has cleared on Telkom’s side, the affected facilities should have their lines reactivated as early as possible,” Shawa said.

The Star