The Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) provincial secretary, Popson Kunene, said health care at state hospitals could be improved if the facilities were adequately staffed.
In recent months, the KZN Department of Health has been left red-faced, ith several incidents reported at hospitals.
One incidents, that went viral on social media, was of a patient at RKKhan Hospital in Chatsworth, whose mouth was infested with maggots.
The 52-year-old patient, Sadek Ebrahim, died days after the incident.
Kunene said they had been raising their concerns since the days of former MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo.
“It’s clear that the department is not ready to deal with those issues affecting the health system.
“In most cases, especially in the public hospitals, you’ll find patients complaining that they’re not being taken care of by the staff. Some also complain that they don’t get their medication on time and that there are a lot of queues. This is due to lack of staff,” said Kunene.
He urged the current Health MEC, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu to swiftly implement a plan for specialists to be hired.
He added that the medical negligence claims were as a result of the staff shortages.
The RK Khan Hospital board chair, Reverend Cyril Pillay, said the acute shortage of inpatient bed space and ageing infrastructure were among the issues facing the hospital.
“Due to the increased workload on staff, equipment and expendable items, the budget needs to be increased. The excuse, that the department doesn’t have money for daily issues, adds to the problem,” said Pillay.
Community activist and chairperson of the newly formed RK Khan action committee (RKKAC), Visvin Reddy, said there were about 40% of posts that needed to be filled around the province.
“The available staff are made to work harder and they’re suffering just because the department says they don’t have money to employ other workers. Most of the workers at public institutions suffer from fatigue,” said Reddy.
Last month, during her visit to King Edward VIII Hospital, Simelane-Zulu acknowledged that the staffing issue had become a serious problem.
Simelane-Zulu said another problem was that the department did not have money to employ staff.
Reddy said that the department and the state must make funds available to employ more people in public hospitals.
“The state of health in the province is in the ICU and we have to blame the former MEC for all of this. Dhlomo must account for the mess that the health department is in,” said Reddy.
Former DA KZN spokesperson on Health and MPL, Dr Imran Keeka, said that Dhlomo must be held accountable for the collapse of the health-care system in the previous decade.
“A previous ministerial task team report found that the then MEC was guilty of political interference in the department.
“This must stop and, even though the premier and new MEC must show steadfast and stern leadership, they must separate party affairs from state affairs,” said Keeka.
He also urged the department to urgently fill critical vacancies. He said this would help make sure that there were no long queues, that staff were happier and not burnt out, and hopefully that there was a massive reduction in complaints and medico-legal claims.
“These claims against the department are - as per the last A-G’s report - in the region of just over R18.5bn.
“The department has already paid out just over R460million in claims since last year,” he said.