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Durban - Eighty-five employees from the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Health have amassed more than 5 000 days of “sick leave” in less than five months.

In a reply to parliamentary questions by the DA earlier this month, the department revealed that between April and August, 79 employees had been on temporary incapacity leave for more than 30 days each, with a combined total of 4107 days off. 

Six others had been on permanent incapacity leave for 90 days. They were all still being paid combined salaries of close to R2million.

DA spokesperson for Health Dr Imran Keeka said he was “stunned”.

“MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo continues to cite staff shortages as an excuse for the failing state of the department. The problem is not that there aren’t enough staff - it’s the fact that so many of them aren’t at work,” Keeka said.

In terms of temporary incapacity leave, the reply revealed that the worst-affected hospitals in the province were:

* Prince Mshiyeni Hospital: nine staff - 496 days.

* Mandeni Regional Hospital: seven staff - 359 days.

* Greytown District Hospital: five staff - 306 days.

* King Edward VIII Hospital: five staff - 301 days.

“These are all very busy hospitals which serve thousands of people. The absence of just one staff member is going to have a ripple effect,” Keeka said.

“The result, quite simply, is more work for fewer staff. This has the potential to increase medico-legal claims, overtime work for other staff and ultimately poorer patient care. The problem with the response is that it covers hospitals only and I don’t understand why other facilities, like clinics, were left out,” he said.

The reply also stated that service delivery issues were dealt with by supervisors by rescheduling rosters and shifts, and prioritising functions.

The department had failed to provide reasons for the absenteeism, despite a request from the DA.

Questions

In response to similar questions in 2016, the department had provided answers with names, personnel numbers and reasons for absence.

“These are individuals employed by the provincial government using taxpayers’ money. As far as the DA is concerned they must be held answerable for receiving salaries while not working and for not reporting to work for extended periods, even if this is for illness. The reasons must be made known,” Keeka said.

“It is also disturbing that the MEC did not supply the details of all facilities. There are about 824 service sites in KZN that employ staff and it is expected that the information about all of these would have been forthcoming,” he said.

The provincial secretary of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA, Mandla Shabangu, said they had noticed the number of days their members were absent.

“Our problem is that there is a perception that managers and other public servants cannot get sick, and that is wrong.

“These people, especially our members, are exposed to all sorts of health-threatening situations. If your prognosis requires that you stay at home for two months, the employer should not delay approving temporary boarding for those two months,” Shabangu said.

The KZN Health department responds to allegations: 

Ncumisa Mafunda, a spokesperson for the KZN Department of Health said:

“The Department notes the media enquiry, in which an average of 58 – 60 days’ incapacity leave per affected employee over a five-month period has been extrapolated to seem far worse than it actually is. These are, unfortunately the tactics of individuals who are pursuing certain sinister agendas.

The Department would like to challenge such individuals to provide the number of days that have been worked collectively by its 68 000 employees during the corresponding period. 

That said, the Department is always concerned when any employee has to be placed on incapacity leave, because it (the Department) values its employees and their wellbeing.

To this end, the Department has an Employee Assistance Programme which strives to assist employees who have challenges that might affect their productivity, or ability to work.

Regarding the allegations contained in the media statement in question, the Department has held a high-level meeting and discussed a concerning upward trend whereby employees have been placed on incapacity leave, as aided by an external health risk management entity.

As a result of this intervention, applications for incapacity leave are tightly scrutinised, with the Department taking a decision to medically board staff who are no longer medically fit to work, rather than have them placed on continued incapacity leave.

In fact, had the Department not intervened, the numbers cited in the media statement would be higher.”

Daily News