Officials consult with doctors during the NCOP oversight visit to Addington Hospital in Durban on Thursday. Picture: Bongani Mbatha/ANA

A less onerous process has been implemented to speed up the appointment of doctors and nurses at public hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal. 

This was revealed at the National Council of Provinces select committee on social services oversight visit to the troubled Addington Hospital. 

Led by chairperson Cathy Dlamini the committee last week visited various wards where they were told of dire staff shortages. 

On Thursday, with a doctor off sick, there was only one paediatrician looking after 32 patients at the hospital's paediatrics ward. This she did while training two interns who started on Monday. 

Staff had to be shifted between the labour and neonatal wards depending on demand. 

Ideally, the latter ward should have 35 staff members between two shifts. However, they had 22, forcing them to decrease the number of beds from 22 to 10 so as not to overburden the staff. 

Committee members quizzed ward heads, hospital chief executive Dr Mthetheleli Ndlangisa and department of health head Dr Sifiso Mtshali on the appointment process. 

Staff shortages were largely due to budgetary constraints and specialists leaving the public sector, said Mtshali. 

Posts were recently unfrozen and the approvals for appointments granted to health facilities by the department. 

These were based on a minimum critical list of staff needed for each facility to function. 

“The appointment of doctors, nurses and pharmacists is exempt from approval by treasury so the process goes a lot faster. As long as the facility has a vacancy and funds, they can advertise and appoint,” said Mtshali. 

Generally, even without this added step via treasury, appointments took at least two months depending on the availability of the candidate, said Ndlangisa. 

Addington has also been battling with the collapse of  infrastructure, following the breakdown of the radiotherapy treatment machines in their oncology department. 

Although this was being resolved, it has been discovered that four of the radiography ward's machines are also out of order.

These were used mainly for screening for cancer, among others.  

Fortunately, since the procurement of machines was decentralised from the department to hospitals, the process was working much faster, said Ndlangisa.

One machine, which was condemned in November, was awaiting replacement while another, which can be fixed, awaits a part from China.  

After the oversight visit, which included the Cato Manor Clinic, where staff shortages came up, Mtshali said they were aware of the shortcomings.