Working for access to quality public healthcare in South Africa since 1998
17 April 2018

TAC calls for urgent government intervention at Themba Hospital

Nelspruit, 17 April 2018 – The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in Mpumalanga is deeply concerned with the ongoing strike action at Themba Hospital in Ehlanzeni. The strike and subsequent shut down of health services is threatening the lives and well-being of patients admitted to and trying to access services at the hospital. While we are sympathetic to and support the call for better working conditions, this cannot be at the risk of people’s lives who use the public healthcare system.

The labour strike has been ongoing since Wednesday 4 April. Since Friday 13 April the Hospital has been shut down by the striking workers. A TAC team on the ground at the Hospital has found the following issues:

– Patients have been turned away from the OPD waiting area and redirected to use other hospitals. This is a financial burden on the poor and often unemployed community members who use this facility. There have been no OPD services since Friday 13 April. This also means patients who have been due to return for follow up appointments and planned procedures are not being seen. This will lead to more health complications for these people. No files can be retrieved.

– The kitchen was locked until the afternoon. Patients had not had any food since Sunday 15 April. This means unwell patients are hungry and some are taking medicines on empty stomachs. Some, but not all, patients have been fed with tea and bread this afternoon. Further food supplies are not available as they are locked away in another part of the hospital.

– All theatres are locked and scheduled and emergency surgeries are not taking place. One women arrived on Sunday for her scheduled C-section on Monday. There was no one at the facility to help her as she went into labour pains. Today she has yet to be helped. Other women in the maternity ward waiting for C-sections are in the same situation. One of the striking doctors told us that the cooler to sterilise tools in the surgery is broken which is not allowing any surgeries to take place.

– The pharmacy is locked. Patients who are being discharged are leaving the hospital without necessary medicines, even those in critical conditions. They are being told to go to local clinics to get the medicines they need or wait until the strike is over. They are not being given any prescriptions.

– The mortuary is locked. There are no staff servicing this area.

– Ambulances are being redirected to Rob Ferreira Hospital. Today two people were taken by air ambulance away. We are unsure as to the reason why.

– There are no cleaning or laundry services. Linen is dirty. The striking workers say that the machines to wash the linen is broken, meaning the department has been outsourcing this service. Patients are sleeping on dirty linen and wearing dirty gowns. One patient said they had been wearing the same gown for three weeks. Another told us it was a week.

– Yesterday some patients were discharging themselves due to the total lack of services despite in some cases being in critical condition. Today many more patients were being discharged in poor health conditions, and told to go to the clinic if they have complications.

This is unacceptable. As an organisation that represents users of the public healthcare system, TAC Mpumalanga calls on the provincial Department of Health to intervene as a matter of urgency to ensure that not even one life is unnecessarily lost due to this strike as per their Constitutional obligation to provide healthcare including reproductive health services to people.

A letter was sent to the MEC of Health, the Head of Department, and the leadership of the health workers striking yesterday evening in which the following demands were made:
1. The MEC and HOD to urgently come to Themba Hospital to address striking workers and meet with the striking workers in order to bring a swift resolution on this action;

2. Striking workers should return to work immediately to ensure the delivery of healthcare to those in need; and 

3. That the provincial Department of Health should publicly share their turnaround plan to address this crisis and the ongoing challenges at the hospital. 


TAC has also informed the Minister of Health and Director General of Health of the crisis and urged them to intervene.

For more information contact:

Nqobile Shabalala | TAC Mpumalanga Chairperson | 071 886 7735
Owen Nhlanhla
| TAC Mpumalanga Provincial Officer Bearer | 079 257 5744
Bellinda Setshogelo | Provincial Manager | 082 622 4481