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Contracts of Covid-19 health workers in the Cape terminated despite chronic staff shortages

MEC Mbombo seen at Tygerberg Hospital early in the pandemic to see how the vaccination of healthcare workers was going. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

MEC Mbombo seen at Tygerberg Hospital early in the pandemic to see how the vaccination of healthcare workers was going. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Apr 11, 2022

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Cape Town - More than half of the 813 doctors, nurses and other health-care workers, including vaccinators, employed in the Western Cape to help respond to the Covid-19 pandemic have had their contracts terminated despite chronic staff shortages across the province.

Health and Wellness MEC Nomafrench Mbombo revealed these figures in a written response to a question from provincial ANC health spokesperson Rachel Windvogel about the number of doctors, nurses and other health-care workers who were employed to help respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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“Contracts for 592 staff employed in Covid-19 posts were terminated over the course of the pandemic.

“The department, however, re-employed 319 of the 592 in other, non-Covid-19 posts within the department,” Mbombo said.

In effect, this meant that 273 contracts were completely terminated.

At the same time, 221 staff employed on contract during the vaccine drive were terminated. However, the department re-employed 107 of them in other non-vaccination positions within the department.

Mbombo said this effectively meant that 114 contracts had been completely terminated.

Commenting on the response, Windvogel said that the provincial government was preoccupied with quick fixes and short-term solutions.

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“Take for instance employment of 592 health-care workers as part of the Covid-19 response; they were all on short-term contracts yet we know that all our hospitals and clinics have chronic staff shortages.”

Windvogel said a major concern with the provincial department was with Covid-19-related expenditure.

She said billions had been spent over the past two years under the pretence of strengthening public healthcare, yet now there was nothing to show for all the spending.

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“Instead of addressing the persistent challenge of chronic under-staffing, the provincial government opted to enrich the recruitment agencies through appointing costly agency personnel.”

She urged the province to stop its reliance on agency staff and to employ permanent staff in its health facilities.

Windvogel said she would not drop the issue and would be following up with further questions asking for a breakdown of expenditure on the recruited employees.

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Asked whether the department would have to recruit new staff if there was a fifth wave of the virus, departmental spokesperson Maret Lesch said they were expecting the fifth wave to be manageable.

“We have the necessary infrastructure in place, such as intermediate care facilities for Covid-19 patients, and will reassign staff as necessary.”

She said the provincial Covid-19 vaccination service had now been integrated into the normal service delivery package offered at fixed primary health-care facilities, allowing staff to resume other services.

The discussion comes as the Health and Wellness Department said last week that it was seeing a slow decline in the number of daily new Covid19 cases, with on average 300 new diagnoses a day. Lesch said that the test positivity rate was approximately 14%, which is higher than previous inter-wave periods.

“However, the Western Cape has the highest number of new daily cases. We are monitoring the number of cases, as well as our surveillance data, closely to ensure we respond immediately where necessary.”

She said they have seen an overall decrease of 10% in cases in the Cape metro over the past week and an overall decrease of 16% in rural areas.

“In terms of Covid-19 vaccination, we are preparing for recovery and to live with Covid-19 in 2022. Our biggest weapon remains vaccination, especially for those over 50.”

Meanwhile, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) on Saturday reported that 1183 new Covid-19 cases had been identified in South Africa, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 3.7 million.

NICD spokesperson Sinenhlanhla Jimoh said this increase represents a 4.8% positivity rate.

On Saturday, he said: “The majority of new cases today are from Gauteng, with 44%, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 20%. Western Cape accounted for 19%; Eastern Cape accounted for 7% and Mpumalanga accounted for 4%.”

Jimoh said the Free State, Limpopo and North West each accounted for 2% while the Northern Cape accounted for fewer than 1% of the new cases.

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