Clinic closes its doors

The gates of the clinic remain shut.

The Hout Bay clinic has been closed because of the “volatile and unpredictable” situation in Hangberg, says the provincial Department of Health.

Clinic staff are said to be “traumatised” by the unrest that followed the alleged shooting of fisher Deurick van Blerk on August 12 as well as violent clashes between protesters and riot police on Thursday August 30.

The result is that staff – who number about 20 people, including doctors, dentists, nurses, natal carers and receptionists – are no longer willing to work at the clinic until peace returns to the area, according to ward councillor Roberto Quintas.

However, Roscoe Jacobs, of the Hout Bay Civic Association, has condemned the closure of the clinic, saying it happened “without prior community consultation and engagement” and violated the community’s constitutional right to health care.

“It seems because we are a poor community the government can just do as it pleases. We do not accept this,” he said, calling on the SA Human Rights Commission and health ombudsman to investigate.

“The closure of the day hospital means the community has no access to emergency health care. Chronically ill patients don’t have access to their medication. Women don’t have access to family planning.”

Health department spokeswoman Monique Johnstone said the clinic was closed for the safety of staff and patients. Staff had been redeployed to Hout Bay Main Road clinic and other facilities until the situation in Hout Bay had been “managed,” she said.

Health MEC Dr Nomafrench Mbombo has asked the community to “work with SAPS to ensure calm is restored in the area”.

Ms Johnstone advised those using the clinic to instead visit the Retreat hospital, Hout Bay Main Road clinic and Lady Michaelis hospital until further notice. Chronic medication could still

collected at Iziko Lobomi community centre and the Hangberg sports and recreation centre and emergency patients would be taken by ambulance to Victoria Hospital or the Retreat emergency centre.

As the time this edition went to print, the clinic’s gates remained shut, painting a bleak picture for those relying on it.

A mother of a two-month-old boy said her son needed regular injections. She feared she would have to travel to Retreat for them to be administered.

“I am not working at the moment, and a trip like that can cost me R60 in taxi fare. I can’t afford that,” the woman said.

“What I don’t understand is that the violence doesn’t happen at the clinic. I know that it’s sometimes hard for doctors to get in here (to the harbour community), but no one will harm them. The elderly are also going to need treatment, but it is going to be difficult to get to these other clinics.”

Another woman, who suffered a stroke in 2009, said her next doctor’s appointment was on September 12, but now she did not know how to cover taxi fare to see him.

“I’m very disappointed about this,” she said.

Hout Bay Health Forum chairwoman Liz Huckle said: “There is so much unhappiness in the community around this issue given that many of our residents using public health care are unemployed, existing on pensions or grants and (they) simply cannot afford to travel as far afield as Retreat.”

Mr Quintas said the clinic staff had been traumatised by riots that had rocked the harbour precinct and Hangberg and the looting of the Bay Harbour Market.

“Furthermore, there was the SAPS intervention last Thursday. Naturally, SAPS are unable to provide forewarning of their crime interventions as this may jeopardise outcomes of successful arrests when responding to intelligence in the area. It’s important to note at this stage that the intervention of last Thursday was a much-needed one one which the community of Hangberg has requested repeatedly, asking for more SAPS vigilance and visibility and operations in area.”

Mr Quintas said he was working with health officials to get the clinic reopened, but the riots had made the staff feel like the area wasn’t safe to work in.

“It creates an extra burden on the more vulnerable members of the community – expectant mothers, diabetics, people with heart conditions and elderly persons who now have to travel to IY to use that clinic to access basic health services.”

Also various City services were not prepared to go into the area, which meant there were blocked drains for days and garbage was not being collected.

“This is now a serious cost to to the community when people take their frustrations out in a manner that is unlawful and violent,” he said.

Meanwhile, the SA Human Rights Commission is investigating last Thursday’s police operation after several residents complained that riot police had used heavy-handed tactics, acted without search warrants and shot residents’ animals with rubber bullets.

SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissen said it wanted to ensure residents’ rights were protected.