Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Monday unveiled a R150-million plan to upgrade buildings and services at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital -- and halve the number of patients it treats.
The announcement follows countless reports of crumbling infrastructure and deteriorating services at the world's biggest hospital with over 2 800 beds, a number which, after the improvements are completed, will be reduced to only 1 200 beds.
As part of the scaling down, which will bring the hospital in line with international standards, Motsoaledi said Soweto residents will be encouraged to utilise primary healthcare facilities such as community clinics and will also be diverted to the soon-to-be completed 300-bed Jabulani-Zola Hospital.
"[Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital] is old and maintenance has not been good, so everywhere you look you will find a problem," Motsoaledi said at a media briefing about the upgrades at the 70-year-old hospital.
Various engineers had inspected the premises and pointed out critical areas where immediate action was necessary.
Some R69-million of the allocated budget would be used for the upgrading of the 12-storey nurses' home alone with the remainder of the assigned budget divided between funding for the improvements of the labour ward; the neonatal intensive-care unit; the mortuary cold room; bulk water storage; the intensive-care unit; old and new doctors' residences; and walkways and paths between buildings.
The minister added that the makeover would also provide for adequate electricity supplies, because while many buildings had been added since the hospital's inception, there had been no equivalent increase in power capacity.
Funds will be made available from the department of health's infrastructure budget and the improvements will begin at the end of September and are due to be finalised by August 2012.
'Definite sabotage but we're past that now'
Many of the reports on dilapidated infrastructure in the hospital were dismissed by hospital's chief executive Johanna More as acts of sabotage carried out by unions at the hospital.
One such case involved an investigation carried out by the Mail & Guardian into the state of the hospital's mortuary, revealing an overcrowding of bodies and unsanitary working conditions.
In the aftermath of the article, a morgue employee was sacked, allegedly for talking to the M&G.
Motsoaledi conceded that conditions at the hospital left a lot to be desired but insisted that sabotage had definitely taken place and said the planned upgrade was not in response to media reports.
"There have been areas of sabotage -- there is no question about it. There were genuine problems and when people were angry they did sabotage certain areas to bring get our attention so we could come in, so it's a mixture of these two issues. We are now forward-looking, saying let's work together and solve all those things," he said.
According to the renovation plans, the mortuary cold room will be upgraded at a cost of R246 000.
Unions have welcomed the plans, but continue to dispute the claims of sabotage.
"Anything stated without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. In any case, we are not in this for point-scoring and we welcome the plans for repairing this broken hospital," Sizwe Pumla, the spokesperson for the National Education Health and Allied Workers union, told the M&G.
According to plans unveiled in President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address earlier this year, Chris Hani-Baragwanath is to form part of six national "mega-hospitals" each linked to a medical school, providing research and training for health professionals.
As part of this, the hospital will be downscaled to 1 200 beds -- as per international regulations and standards for hospital sizes mentioned by Motsoaledi.
Once the hospital size is decreased, buildings not used for patients will be utilised for other purposes, the minister added.