Cape Town - Patients, some critically ill, say they have to sleep on benches and sometimes on the floor for days at a time because of a shortage of beds at Helderberg Hospital in Somerset West .
Marius Gerber, 45, of Somerset West, who claims to have had a heart attack on Tuesday morning, spent more than 48 hours on a plastic chair in the hospital’s trauma unit. At some point he had to sleep in his car after he was told there wasn’t a bed for him.
Marius Gerber sleeps in his car outside Helderberg Hospital. Photo Cindy Wax. Credit: CAPE ARGUS
He was only given a bed on Thursday afternoon, shortly after the Cape Argus queried the situation and the alleged bed shortage with the provincial health department.
Gerber’s wife, Mariette, described the bed shortage at the hospital as dire.
She called CapeTalk breakfast show host Kieno Kammies to explain the situation on Thursday morning.
When she initially saw her husband seated on a chair at the hospital, she thought the arrangement was temporary and that he would be seated there for only a few hours.
“But when hours went by and ECG [electrocardiogram] reports came back confirming that Marius had a heart attack, we started asking questions why he wouldn’t be given a bed, but staff simply told us that there were no beds.
“I couldn’t believe that a patient who just had a heart attack was made to sit on a hard uncomfortable chair.
“My husband was very sick and exhausted. I was shocked that he was not even given a stretcher to lie on,” she said.
When she asked why her husband would not be transferred to another hospital, she said: “We couldn’t get clear answers”.
Doctors told the couple about a possible transfer to Tygerberg Hospital on Thursday.
While the Gerbers commended doctors and nurses for their dedication, “the feeling we got from personnel was that they are also frustrated by the system… and that there’s not really much they can do to change the situation”.
Gerber was so fatigued during the Cape Argus interview on Thursday that he kept falling asleep while our photographer took pictures.
Gerber said he decided to sleep in his car after attempting to sleep on the floor and finding it too cold and uncomfortable.
When he went home on Tuesday night after he told a nurse about his exhaustion, Gerber said there was a note on his file saying he had “absconded”.
“When I came back after a few hours there was a note on my file that I had absconded. So I couldn’t take any more chances and go home again. The car was the most comfortable option [compared to] those hard chairs,” he said.
Gerber is not the only one who couldn’t get a bed at the hospital. Other patients said they had also been waiting for beds since Monday.
During the Cape Argus visit on Thursday, other patients were lying with duvets and pillows on the floor, while others lay on plastic chairs.
A patient, who asked not to be named, said he had been sleeping on the floor since Monday.
“I’ve put my duvet as a cushion so I don’t really mind not [having] a bed… as long as I’m alive and given medication I have no problems,” he said.
Eric Soji, of Zola township in the Strand, was admitted to the hospital’s trauma unit on Wednesday after a fall at work.
While he has been told that he might need surgery, he still did not have his X-ray results to confirm whether he had broken his lower back on Thursday.
“I don’t know if I will have the surgery at all or when can I have it. I’m in so much pain, but things are going very slow around here. I’ve been given pain medication to keep me going in the meantime, but staff really seem overwhelmed by the number of patients,” he said.
Provincial Health Department spokeswoman Faiza Steyn said the department would comment on the matter today.