| Hundreds of health workers’ jobs at risk as Eastern Cape Covid-19 field hospital faces closure

  • The Dr Elizabeth Mamisa Chabula-Nxiweni Field Hospital in Port Elizabeth, sponsored by Volkswagen SA, faces closure and hundreds of contract healthcare workers are set to lose their jobs.
  • The Eastern Cape Department of Health confirmed that its partnership with Volkswagen SA was due to end on 31 March. 
  • The DA criticised the move and described it as very short-sighted and dangerous.

The acclaimed Volkswagen SA sponsored Dr Elizabeth Mamisa Chabula-Nxiweni Field Hospital in Port Elizabeth faces closure and with it, hundreds of contract healthcare workers are losing their jobs.

News24 has seen a termination notice written by the acting head of the Eastern Cape health department Dr Sibongile Zungu, in which all health workers contracted to do Covid-19 related work, are advised that  their jobs end on 31 March.   

The hospital, assembled out of Volkswagen’s old Korsten plant, was opened amid fanfare in May after the German government and VWSA pledged R107 million into the facility.

Volkswagen agreed to have the 66 000 square metre plant turned into a temporary hospital.   

The hospital has a capacity to house 4 000 beds.

The move to shut the hospital has sparked criticism with the DA promising to fight for the jobs of the 331 workers and the existence of the field hospital.

DA MPL and the party’s spokesperson on health in the province, Jane Cowley, said she would be writing to Premier Oscar Mabuyane to request his intervention, and to ensure that contracts are extended for as long as the province continues to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

“I will further be submitting a request to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) for a full investigation into the funding of field hospitals in the province, including the procurement of equipment for those hospitals, to establish whether funds have been redirected away from field hospitals to bolster other hospital budgets,” said Cowley.

The move was not only very short-sighted, but dangerous, warned Cowley.

“There is no comprehensive vaccine rollout plan in place for the province, and all indications are that a third and possibly even fourth wave of infections are likely,” said Cowley.

Eastern Cape health spokesperson Siyanda Manana confirmed that the contract between VWSA and the health department was due to end on 31 March 2021.

He said there were ongoing discussions between VWSA and the health department about the potential of using the hospital as a vaccination site instead.

“There are discussions that are ongoing at this point in time as to what we will potentially use the facility for. Maybe it might be used when we have massive vaccinations.”

Cowley said what’s even more concerning, was that while the health department seemed hellbent on winding down its Covid-19 response, it had also become open season on the additional resources that were procured.

The Nelson Mandela Bay district manager had allegedly already given instructions to remove equipment from the Dr Elizabeth Mamisa Chabula-Nxiweni Field Hospital, supposedly to set up vaccination rollout facilities at Dora Nginza and Livingstone hospitals, said Cowley.

Cowley added that the district manager did not have the mandate to remove equipment from one facility to another, without following due process, particularly as the field hospital was a public-private partnership entity with many stakeholders involved.

Manana said the instruction was that computers and emergency trolleys that are not used at the field hospital, be taken to vaccination sites. “This is equipment that was not used at the field hospital. Yes the district manager doesn’t have the authority to, but we know who does.”

Regarding the future of the field hospital VWSA spokesperson Andile Dlamini said: “The agreement between Eastern Cape Department of Health and VWSA expires on 31 March 2021. We are in discussions about the next steps which include the decommissioning of the facility but keep it readily available in case of another wave.”