Pretoria – The South African Medical Association (Sama) has appealed to the government to implement urgent interventions to rescue public health facilities, not only in Gauteng, but across the country.
In a broad interview with IOL on the overview of Gauteng health facilities, Sama chairperson Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa the public health system is in a mess.
“You know, the state of the hospitals in Gauteng, not only in Gauteng but in other provinces as well, I think the state is shambles. That is how I can put it. We are in a crisis. We do need the intervention of the seniors in government, in terms of making sure that people are not left without health-care services,” Mzukwa said.
“You will know that this (health) is one of the most important services in the country. We do need to make sure that whatever is out there, it is being managed properly. That the hospitals have enough staff, enough security, equipment and that everything is in place.”
He said when those aspects of the public health system are fixed, “people would start to enjoy a dignified service”.
Public health-care facilities in Gauteng have hogged the headlines in recent times over the incidents including the trending video of scores of pregnant women lying on the floor at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Joburg, and the snail-pace refurbishment of the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH) which was ravaged by fire in April last year.
In August, the Gauteng Department of Health revealed that property including 10 desktop computers, one fridge, six plasma television sets and three laptops were stolen from the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital in the wake of the fire which has left many parts of the hospital closed.
Last month, it emerged that while the Gauteng government is making around-the-clock efforts to fully reopen the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital (CMJH), there have been 220 staff resignations since the fire last year, and there are 677 vacant posts.
This was revealed by the Gauteng Health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi in her written reply to questions by the DA’s health spokesperson Jack Bloom in the provincial legislature.
Last month as well, The Star reported that more than 42 000 suppliers for the Gauteng Department of Health were owed R3.1 billion.
Reports also emerged that the world’s third largest hospital, Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, was running out of food for patients, forcing doctors to find ways of feeding their own patients.
The SA Medical Association said the plethora of problems bedevilling the public health-care system in Gauteng, centres around leadership.
“It is poor leadership and poor management. If you go to these provincial departments, there are lots of positions that are being run in an acting capacity. If a person is acting, you do not expect a visionary there. It is a vehicle that does not have a driver,” Mzukwa said.
“We also need to do away with the issue of getting our people there, what they call cadre deployment. Some of these people are not experienced.”
On the other hand, a critical union in South Africa’s health sector, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) said working conditions for its members are “not safe”.
“If you look at what is happening at Charlotte Maxeke, some of the challenges that are making it difficult for them to even renovate the hospital, it is because the plans were made during the apartheid times. They do not have the hospital’s plans. There is also the issue of corruption. It is what is is stalling or stifling infrastructure improvements in the different hospitals,” Denosa’s Gauteng provincial chairperson said Simphiwe Gada told IOL.
“If you go to Helen Joseph Hospital, or to Kalafong … overall the working conditions at hospitals in the province are bad, it is not safe. The Gauteng department of health would not even pass an assessment on the quality of the working conditions regarding infrastructure, tools of trade, and the infrastructure itself.”
He said leaking pipes are a common sight at many hospitals across the province.
“So, it is not really a place where you can say that it is a place where people get healed. The healing process requires that you are exposed to an environment that is clean, and cater for your needs. All these things are not assisting us. They are a challenge and we are not entirely happy,” Gada said.
He said the problem of dilapidated infrastructure is however not unique to Gauteng province alone.
“We always say the minister of health, and the president must look at the issue of health as an investment rather than looking at it as an expense. They should invest in health infrastructure to stimulate the economy. They must also invest in improving working conditions and ensure that we have tools of trade,” Gada said.
The DA’s Jack Bloom told IOL that public health services in Gauteng are in a “state of crisis” caused by chronic mismanagement and rampant corruption at all levels.
“One would have thought that serious steps would be taken to fix the Gauteng health department after the Life Esidimeni tragedy, but scandals continue. The extent of the moral rot is shown by the assassination of health official Babita Deokaran who was trying to stop the rampant looting of money,” said Bloom.
“It is mind-boggling that close to R2 billion was wasted of the extra money made available to save lives in the Covid-19 epidemic. The delay in reopening the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital is devastating for hundreds of cancer and heart patients whose deaths will exceed the 144 deaths of Esidimeni patients.”
He said psychiatric patients still receive “inadequate treatment” in crowded facilities with poor security across Gauteng.
“I suspect that there are scams at virtually all the hospitals where money is siphoned by kick-backs and over-charging. Meanwhile, key posts like head of department and chief financial officer are filled by acting people for more than 18 months,” Bloom said.
“There needs to be a purge of corruption, lazy and incompetent officials who should be replaced by honest and capable people who put patients first, not their own pockets.”