Durban — The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health has appealed to the public to be patient as post-mortems could be delayed due to the National Health and Allied Workers Union’s (Nehawu) strike.
In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the department updated the media and the public on the effects of the ongoing illegal strike by people believed to be affiliated with Nehawu.
The department said that as the strike entered its fourth day on Thursday, the department noted a high rate of staff absenteeism, intimidation of workers, as well as difficulties of access to health-care facilities, especially in the eThekwini, uMgungundlovu and Ilembe districts, which have been blockaded by the protesters.
“All of this has had a dire impact on various critical areas in the public health value chain, such as intensive care and high care units, emergency medical services, obstetric (maternity) wards, accidents and emergency units, orthopaedic wards, casualty, laboratory services, as well as medico-legal mortuaries. Elective surgery appointments have also had to be postponed,” the department said.
It said that senior management had been closely monitoring and evaluating the situation, and meeting at least twice a day, to ensure the most effective and adequate response to developments.
It also said that many health-care facilities had been affected in various ways, but those that have borne the brunt of the strike were in the aforementioned districts.
“The department has had to implement a contingency plan which entails, among others, the rationing of resources where possible, beefing up of security, as well as alternative means of food supply,” the department said.
It said it remains extremely concerned that health-care professionals, with sworn allegiance to professional oaths, were intimidating their colleagues and preventing the public from accessing health care, which is a human right.
“The department is trying everything within its power to mitigate the impact of the strike, including the expeditious completion of post-mortems,” the department said.
“While the department continues to monitor the situation closely, we nevertheless wish to appeal to the public to be patient and co-operative, especially where post-mortems may not be completed on time.”
Meanwhile, the parliamentary health portfolio committee chairperson Dr Kenneth Jacobs has called on employers and workers to settle wage disputes to end ongoing strikes.
Jacobs called upon the government and the labour unions to find solutions to the wage disputes which have led to the ongoing strikes and violence at certain hospitals.
Jacobs said the strike denied South Africans of their constitutional right to genuine health care, because patients were unable to access surgeries and dispensaries, among other things.
Furthermore, desperately sick, hospitalised South Africans and those referred to hospitals by clinics are to receive health care services, due to the ongoing disruptive strikes.
Jacobs said that the parties involved in the wage impasse needed to find an amicable arrangement so that health-care workers could go back to work.
“We urge the parties, Nehawu and the employer to find immediate solutions to the dispute,” Jacobs urged.
He said that while they understood the right of employees in the public sector to affiliate themselves with trade unions and to strike in accordance with the labour relations laws of the country, it is important to note that health care was an essential service and patients should not be deprived of access. Personnel participating in the strike should not intimidate health-care workers through violent behaviour or forcibly remove staff from their workstations.
Jacobs also praised health-care workers, such as interns, doctors and specialists, who worked in areas of the value chain to ensure that patients were taken care of so that the system did not collapse.
Meanwhile, an urgent meeting that was expected to be held in KZN by the health portfolio committee chairperson had been called off because of the volatile situation at several health facilities.
Protesting Nehawu members have brought some hospitals in KZN to a complete standstill. They are demanding a 10% salary increase. The government previously tabled a 3% increase.
KZN legislature spokesperson Wesley Canham said the meeting was called by the health portfolio committee chairperson, Nomakiki Majola, to discuss the impact the public service strike was having on health service delivery in the province.
“Members, let me apologise for calling an urgent meeting on the day of party caucuses, it's because of the situation faced by our communities where they cannot get their right to health due a public service strike. We must always be on the side of the public. Looking at the situation, things are bad. We are not immune to what is felt by communities at this point,” Majola said when inviting members of the committee to the meeting.
The meeting was expected to be held on March 9 and the outcome was expected to be shared afterwards.
Officials from the Department of Health were expected to present reports on the impact of the strike.
Canham said: “The urgent meeting has just been called off due to the volatile situation in various health institutions and therefore the officials of the department have to attend to such. We will inform you of the next sitting of this important meeting.”
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