MASERU — The Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Karabo Mokobocho-Mohlakoana fell short of admitting that there are huge problems at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital but remains adamant that the situation has not reached crisis levels.
“We do not deny the fact that our ministry is facing challenges with regards to Queen II,” said Mokobocho-Mohlakoana.
“We do not deny that we do sometimes run out of medication as a result of occasional breaks in the supply chain but we have not been plunged into any crisis.”
Mokobocho-Mohlakoana was responding to a story that appeared in the Lesotho Times last week revealing the appalling state of Lesotho’s only referral hospital.
The story published after a two-week long investigation by this paper revealed that the hospital had a serious shortage of basic drugs and that it lacked crucial equipment like the CT-Scan.
The investigation also revealed that the hospital had been forced to suspend surgical operations because of power outages and that some diagnostic machines were malfunctioning.
Mokobocho-Mohlakoana however said although there were serious problems, the situation had not reached crisis levels.
She said the shortage of medication was sometimes caused by a break in the supply chain but that “does not mean that patients’ lives have been put at risk”.
“The drug chain management sometimes breaks and hence we realise late that we have run out of certain medication. Placing orders and delivery also take time. This is why we have shortages.”
She however said the lack of medication at the hospital was “just a minor setback and that patients should be rest assured that they will get their prescribed medication”.
Mokobocho-Mohlakoana accused some hospital workers of causing the “breaks in supply” by stealing the medicines.
“We are plagued by a chronic problem of personnel involved in the supply chain stealing medication.
“The very same public which complains about the lack of medication at our hospitals and clinics are the same people who buy the stolen medication,” she said.
“Some of these people open pharmacies opposite our clinics to sell the very same stolen medicines.”
She said suspending culprits from work did not help much because the ministry will still have to keep paying their salaries.
“We cannot afford to be reckless when we deal with such cases. We have to adhere to the public service rules and regulations when we address them, lest we lose out in court.”
Mokobocho-Mohlakoana said allegations that the hospital did not have intravenous fluids (drips) were not true.
“I discovered that the hospital does have the 1-litre drips, which is contrary to the rumours that we only have the 200ml packets and that we were using them on adults even though they are meant for children.”
She said the CT-Scan which this paper said was stuck in Johannesburg because of bureaucratic delays was finally delivered over the weekend and will be installed soon.
She said it was difficult for Queen II to operate like a referral hospital because patients were avoiding local clinics and flooding the hospital to seek the most basic of services that can be provided at the clinics.
“Queen II is undeniably crowded. Patients refrain from using their local clinics. We do have major challenges with regard to the lack of beds. We just don’t have enough beds.”
Mokobocho-Mohlakoana said the hospital was indeed under-staffed but added that this was “a common phenomenon which the whole of Africa was complaining about”.
“Yes we are short-staffed and there seem to be no immediate solutions to the problem.”
She said most health workers choose to seek jobs overseas.
She said they had recruited staff from other African countries but the problem had persisted.
On the issue of people being overworked and underpaid she said such complaints were normal.
“In any working environment, there will always be complaints. Money is never enough for anyone. But up to this point I have no evidence before me of staff complaints.”
She said there was a back-up generator but sometimes it “takes time to pick-up”.
“The generator is meant to automatically take over when there are power cuts. But it so happens that sometimes it takes time to pick. In such instances there will definitely be some disruptions.”
She added that the state of the hospital, which she described as beyond salvage, could have contributed to the power cuts.
“The hospital is very old. Most of it is patchwork. When a building depreciates the wiring and drainage pipes also take the strain.
“Queen II is a very old hospital. Nothing at this point can be done to salvage it.”
She said the health ministry was not going to renovate Queen II since the construction of the referral hospital was already underway.
“Under the bad infrastructure at Queen II all we can do is make the most of what we have.”