Colchester clinic is crumbling, with broken ceilings, windows and no electricity

But the Eastern Cape Department of Health says there’s no money to renovate the clinic

By Joseph Chirume

22 May 2024

The building used by for the weekly mobile clinic for residents of Colchester in the Eastern Cape is in a terrible state. Photos: Joseph Chirume

The building used for the weekly mobile clinic in Colchester near Gqeberha is falling apart and has no electricity.

When GroundUp visited the facility on Wednesday, about 30 patients were waiting to be served in a dark and cold room. There were broken windows and holes in the ceiling.

There were no lights inside the prefabricated building. There is no running water either, so patients walk to the community hall on the same property to use the toilet there.

Patients we spoke to say conditions in the building have deteriorated and that no maintenance has been done since the Covid lockdown in 2020.

A patient waiting for treatment told GroundUp: “We are told to go to the Wells Estate clinic (in Motherwell) to collect certain medication. We have to pay a lot of money for transport. It is also difficult at Wells Estate because even after showing them a reference letter from the Colchester mobile clinic, nurses there say we should not be treated there because their facility is overcrowded.”

A nurse, who asked not to be named, said that their working conditions were bad, but they had no other choice. “You can see the condition of the building is terrible. There’s no water (inside the clinic) and electricity. We use sanitisers in place of water or go to the toilets at the community hall that are used by everyone.”

In a recent statement, the DA shadow MEC for Health in the Eastern Cape, Jane Cowley, said of the clinic: “Medication lies open on tables as there is no secure room. All the doors have holes in them, so there is no privacy at all. Patients, including small babies, need to remove their clothing for examination, and are being exposed to the elements because there is no glass in the windows.”

Cowley said she had written to Health MEC Nomakosazana Meth asking that the building be made compliant with health standards.

A tree grows through a window at the clinic.

Community leader Mtutuzeli Mrwashuli, who has lived in Colchester for more than 15 years, said often the weekly clinic sessions were cancelled at the last minute.

He said Colchester residents felt neglected by health officials. Some prefer to spend money (about R120) for a return trip to a clinic in Motherwell - 30 kilometres away - than attend the weekly Colchester clinic.

Colchester does not have its own emergency medical services or firefighting engines. Residents say they have to wait hours for services from neighbouring towns.

Mrwashuli said the building used by the mobile clinic was not suitable. “In winter, when it rains and it’s very cold, you feel sorry for the desperate patients who are shivering waiting to get treated. Most of them are young children and the elderly,” he said.

Nurses and a doctor come from Gqeberha to treat patients in the Colchester clinic.

Spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Health Mkhululi Ndamase dismissed allegations that the mobile clinic was operating under appalling conditions.

“We can also confirm that the community hall on the same property has been made accessible for ablution services,” he said.

Ndamase said the department has no immediate plans to build a new clinic in Colchester. He said the the mobile clinic only serves about 45 people. “The mobile clinic is sufficient as it has services that are offered at fixed clinics.”

We were also told that there was a shortage of chronic medication at the mobile clinic. Ndamase disputed this. “It would be illogical for a mobile clinic to travel from Gqeberha without medication,” he said in response.

Ndamase said the building was a donation from China, but did not provide further details about this donation. He said the department assessed that the cost of refurbishing the building would be at least R1.7-million, which the department does not have this financial year.

Vuyo Dlanga of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) said union leaders would be visiting the clinic soon to assess the situation.

Patients wait in a dim and cold room because the clinic has no electricity and most of the windows are broken.