The Free State health department will meet with the management of the University of the Free State’s (UFS’s) medical school today in an attempt to divert a crisis after the university advised its students and medical interns not to report for duty at the Pelonomi Hospital.
The university sent out the notice to its students on Saturday, following a week in which a medical intern survived a rape attempt by biting off her assailant’s tongue, and another was robbed at gunpoint on the hospital premises.
Pelonomi is the province’s biggest hospital and is highly dependent on the services of students from the UFS’s medical school and school of nursing, as well as interns completing their training at the facility.
Spokesperson for the health department Mondli Mvambi yesterday told The Citizen they were surprised at the UFS decision to suspend their students’ service to Pelonomi without consulting with the department, as this withdrawal could lead to “panic and crisis”.
Mvambi said the department became aware of the decision through the media, and as such was unaware of how long this planned suspension would last.
“The withdrawal of their students could result in panic and crisis, as the health system is understandably dependent on the inherent assumption that they will be there to help deliver services,” Mvambi said.
“We understand their safety concerns, but we need to sit down and discuss the matter with the university management for us to be able to put contingency measures in place.”
Mvambi said following last week’s attack on the intern in the doctor’s quarters, they had met with students and doctors, and the department had acceded to their demands for improved security and lighting across the premises, panic buttons, and transport for students working at night.
Just days after their meeting, however, a young female doctor was robbed at gunpoint in the hospital’s parking area. The suspects then overpowered the security and fled the scene.
It was confirmed to OFM News that about five additional security personnel were brought in, in an effort to beef up security at Pelonomi, following the second incident on Saturday morning. The hospital is no stranger to controversy, as a female doctor was raped and assaulted with a brick in 2010 while walking down a dark hallway between sections of the hospital.
Mvambi said security measures had undergone a massive overhaul since then, but unfortunately “criminals become sophisticated and manage to find loopholes in the security system”. Mvambi said the victims were both “in good spirits”.
“The first doctor wanted to return to work on Friday, but we told her to take it easy and complete her trauma counselling,” he said.
“The second one was joking with colleagues yesterday, and said she didn’t think it could happen to her, and that she should have asked for an escort.”
– Additional reporting: OFM News