KZN department needs R1 billion more

2017-05-02 15:23
KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo.

KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo. (File)

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The KwaZulu-Natal Health Department will need at least R1 billion above the R39 billion allocated for its 2017/2018 budget, to stabilise the public health system.

This was according to South African Medical Association (Sama) KZN branch chairperson Dr Mvuyisa Mzukwa, who commented before the association’s planned demonstration on Friday, where doctors from across the province will picket at public hospitals during their lunch break.

Sama’s KZN branch organised the protest following grievances from public health staff of crumbling infrastructure, broken equipment and shortage of staff due to frozen posts and cost-cutting.

Mzukwa said in an interview with The Witness on Friday that he felt the department was not taking Sama’s protest and their grievances seriously, and said the department was “playing games”.

"Health not taking association seriously"

Mzukwa said he, along with other Sama members, were invited to a conference toward the end of March this year, where he briefly spoke with KZN Health Department head Dr Sifiso Mtshali.

“We were invited to a conference, but a conference is not a meeting,” said Mzukwa.

“I spoke with the department head at the conference briefly and he told me the department was R1 billion short for the 2017/2018 budget with ‘no solution in the near future’.”

He said Sama had been raising the same concerns about the shortages of staff, broken oncology equipment and crumbling infrastructure, for a few years to the department. “Why is the department surprised [that Sama is marching]?” asked Mzukwa.

He said the department would be “hit by a bomb” on the day of the protest, as it had gained momentum and is expected to have over 1 000 participants picketing at KZN state hospitals.

The KZN Health Department said in a statement on Friday it “noted with concern” media reports attributed to Sama, raising certain grievances that were yet to be raised with the department.

“Sama wrote a letter on April 4, 2017 requesting for a meeting with the department. The request was agreed to by the department and a meeting was scheduled for May 4, 2017.

“The head of Health was willing to meet with Sama after working hours, but this was declined by the organisation.

“Sama has agreed to meet with the department on May 9, 2017,” the department said.

Mzukwa said the date had been moved from May 4 as it was the day before the protest, and he felt that this meant that the department was not taking Sama seriously.

Health head Dr Mtshali in a brief interview on Friday accused the medical association of moving the meeting until after the protest, so that they could say the department had not engaged with them beforehand.

The department said in their statement they were “particularly concerned” about Sama’s “alleged grievances” and the department had not received any formal grievance(s) from Sama, as per standard labour relations procedure.

The department said Sama could still “air its grievances ... with a view to finding an amicable solution”.

Two weeks ago, The Witness published an article where health professionals in the public sector expressed their frustrations with broken equipment, working extra shifts and “general systemic chaos”.

Several KZN state doctors complained that when they order medicine, they only receive half of what was ordered. And when doctors leave the public sector for the private sector, they are not replaced because of the freezing of posts, and as a result staff are being told to work extra shifts.

Provincial Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said in his 2017/2018 budget speech that the department does not have enough money to do all it wishes it could, however, some KZN doctors have argued that there are sufficient funds in the department, but that they are being wasted due to poor management.

One doctor in the private sector, who did not wish his name to be published, said he had left the public health sector due to the chaos.

He alleged other doctors were leaving state hospitals in droves because they were not able to practise medicine and help their patients in the way that they were taught to.

Last year, The Witness also reported that KZN public hospitals were suffering a “nursing crisis” with a shortage of general and specialist nurses at public hospitals and clinics.

A Durban nurse, who could not be named, said at the time that the shortage of staff in the public sector had put pressure on the nurses working at clinics and hospitals.

“Nursing sisters are having to beg ­student nurses to help out at hospitals, that is how severe the shortage is,” said the nurse.

In another report by The Witness, a woman with stage three cervical cancer was interviewed after she was told she would have to wait three months for radiation treatment.

She had been given pain medication, but she said it no longer worked, and she had quit her job as the pain was just “too much”.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  kzn health department

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