Updated 06 November 2015

Patients and staff stranded in KZN over water protests

A dramatic situation is unfolding at a KZN hospital where staff and patients are essentially being held hostage amid water shortage protests.

Staff and patients at Bethesda District Hospital have been left stranded as local communities protest water shortages. Community members say patients have been unable to access treatment and emergency cases have been diverted since protests started on Wednesday.

 Read: Toxic water scare rocks Cradock as several fall ill

Located about 330km east of Newcastle in Ubombo, the 230-bed hospital has been unable to get patients or supplies in or out of the hospital since community members from nearby Jozini began protesting water shortages in the area.  
It is believed that the protests were sparked by Umkhanyakude District Municipality’s alleged failure to provide water deliveries via tankers for two months.
On Thursday, the protesters had blocked the road to and from the hospital, effectively cutting off the hospital from deliveries of supplies or critically ill patients from emergency care.
According to local EMS personnel who asked not to be named, at least one patient in need of emergency care had to be diverted to a local clinic where nurses had to be telephonically coached on how to stabilise the patient before she could be transported to another hospital.  

Image: The Main Road Umbombo blocked off with stones. (Supplied)

On Friday, several community members have also reported that patients on chronic medication like antiretrovirals and tuberculosis medication have not been able to collect treatment for several days.

Umbombo Police have confirmed that protesters continue to block access to the hospital and have called for local leaders to address the crowd.

Read: We should have heeded drought warning signs - KZN resident

“With the manpower that we have got, we are doing everything to calm down the situation but the people are still blocking the access,” said South African Police Service (SAPS) Major Thulani Zwane. “Leadership in the area need to talk to the community and address their needs.”
Zwane said it was unlikely that SAPS would be able to, for instance, try to escort patients in or out of the hospital.
“We will continue to monitor the situation in the area and it is not easy to reach hospital,” Zwane added. “Our duty is to try and manage the situation in the area, but hospital management may get other (alternatives) to protect their staff while police are busy with protests.”

Spokesperson for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, Sam Mkhwanazi, said: “The Department does have plans in place to mitigate the impact of the protest action on service delivery at Bethesda Hospital.” – Health-e News Service.

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