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Press release date: 5 March 2012

The majority of patients at government hospitals are being exposed to unnecessary risks according to research conducted by Acentric and Patient First. Patient First has called on the Department of Health to address the communication skills in the hospital pharmacies in KwaZulu-Natal and other provinces in South Africa. Between May and November 2011, Patient First randomly collected the stories and experiences of 10,969 outpatients exiting 22 hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal. With the technical assistance of Acentric Marketing Research, Patient First has produced a report that has ranked the 22 hospitals in terms of their performance in reducing the problem of non-communication of dosage instructions.

The report for November reveals that, in the majority of hospitals surveyed, 80% or more of the outpatients do not receive dosage instructions when collecting their medication at the pharmacy. This includes the semi-illiterate patients who are taking TV and ARV treatment.

“This is worrying since patients who do not understand dosage instructions are at risk of using the medication in a way that endangers their health. The ramification of an 80% or worse failure rate in most of the government hospitals, is that the majority of the community is being put to unnecessary risks through poor communication at the hospital pharmacies. It is a problem that requires urgent intervention.” says Craig Kolb, of Acentric Marketing Research.

The highest percentage of complaints, when it came to pharmacy staff not communicating dosage instructions, came from the patients using Untunjambili, Ladysmith and Edendale hospitals. The problem is unacceptably high in the three hospitals, with more than 95% of patients complaining of this problem. Worse still, when viewed over time through 2011, the problem is getting worse in the three hospitals.

Ntombikayise Ncube, one of the patients at Edendale hospital, reported: “The people who work at the pharmacy are very impatient. They do not have time for us. When we ask them to explain the dosage instructions, they tell us that it is not part of their job description.”

Patient First intends to continue collecting patient stories and monitoring the problem in 2012 with the assistance of Acentric. “We are aware that a number of public hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal now have a formal mechanism for collecting and processing patient complaints. Many patients do not however use these mechanisms for fear of reprisals. We shall therefore continue to collect patient experiences in the hospitals, especially their commendation and complaints of the services in the hospitals, to offer citizens an alternative mechanism through which they can cast a spotlight on the hospitals where patient care problems are unacceptably high.“ says Father Stan Muyebe, the coordinator for the Patient First initiative.