JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The country's biggest black hospital was in turmoil today after a crackdown on doctors who have described conditions there as disgusting.
The 101 doctors from Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg's huge Soweto township who endorsed the criticisms were threatened with dismissal unless they sign a letter of apology.
Local newspapers reported that the 3,000-bed hospital had fired two of the doctors. Hospital Supt. Johan van der Heever refused to comment on the reports.
In a letter published in the South African Medical Journal last September, the doctors, both black and white, described conditions in medical wards as "disgusting and despicable."
'Utter Contempt' for Patients
They said that facilities were completely inadequate and that overcrowding was horrendous.
"Patients and their problems are treated with utter contempt by the authorities. . . . Here is human suffering which cannot be portrayed by mere statistics," the letter said.
Hospital authorities have demanded that the doctors sign a letter of apology on the grounds that their criticisms were inaccurate and that junior medical staff took facts in the letter on trust from senior staff.
Baragwanath is the main hospital for Soweto's 2 million residents and has to cope with scores of victims of stabbings and shootings in one of the most violent cities in the world.
The Johannesburg Star quoted Prof. Clive Rosendorff, dean of the medical school at Johannesburg's Witwatersrand University, as saying he knew of two doctors who had been fired.
'Decided to Fire Themselves'
But the official in charge of hospitals in Transvaal province, Daan Kirstein, said he knew of nobody who had been fired "unless they decided to fire themselves."
People who did not sign the letter of apology would in fact dismiss themselves, he said.
"I know of only two people who are not prepared to sign the document. We are prepared to give them a further hearing," he said.
Hospitals in South Africa are racially segregated under apartheid. There have been repeated complaints of severe overcrowding at Baragwanath with many patients having to sleep on the floor.
Hospitals for whites are half empty.