Health ‘catastrophe’: former ANC MEC quits party

2013-09-22 10:01

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A former ANC health MEC has quit the party in disgust, writes Lubabalo Ngcukana

At the age of 77, most people are – hopefully – enjoying their retirement.

But the Eastern Cape’s first post-apartheid MEC for health, Dr Trudy Thomas, says she can’t simply sit quietly at home while “incompetent politicians and officials” run the province’s health services into the ground.

Thomas, who was an ANC MEC from 1994 to 1999, has quit the party in disgust because, she says, systems that were “good to excellent” before 1994 have “crashed spectacularly” on the ANC’s watch.

“Over the last 15 years, I have witnessed the progressive deterioration of the province’s health department and the services it offers.

“This trend grew most acutely in 2012 and has culminated in a full-blown catastrophe. The Eastern Cape is now threatened by a health crisis the likes of which I have never seen before.”

Thomas, who lives in a home overlooking the Chintsa River about 40 minutes outside East London, is no longer a member of any political party but is active in a number of health NGOs.

She was one of the authors of a damning Eastern Cape Health Crisis Coalition report, which this week spurred Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi to suspend the chief executive and nursing manager of the province’s Holy Cross Hospital.

Motsoaledi ordered an urgent investigation in the province after the coalition released its report, Death and Dying in the Eastern Cape, last Wednesday.

The minister said the report shocked him, and he promised further action based on the findings of a task team he dispatched after reading it.

Thomas retired in 2001. She looks back on her term as MEC as a successful one.

“I think we did our best back then under a limited budget. We built many clinics and primary healthcare facilities. But today there are huge budgets but zero services to the people. That must change,” she says.

She practised medicine for 35 years in the Eastern Cape and says the current healthcare system is the worst she has ever seen.

“What is happening is tragic. People are dying every day due to negligence and shortages of drugs and equipment. The infrastructure is appalling, with buildings falling apart. The government is killing its own people.”

That’s why she worked on the report and took part in a 2km march from Bhisho Stadium to the department’s offices to ask for urgent intervention.

“I am very passionate about health. I have been involved all my life and I still do my little bit to help. Of course, due to my age, I cannot overdo things. I guess, once an activist, always an activist,” says the mother of four and grandmother of six.

She works in a number of community healthcare initiatives, including her own charity, the Loaves and Fishes Network, which works largely in crèches.

The new head of the Eastern Cape health department, Dr Thobile Mbengashe, says the matters raised in the coalition’s report are “receiving attention” from his team.

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