Hospitals in Limpopo on the verge of collapse

2012-02-18 17:46

Limpopo hospitals are teetering on the brink of disaster as they bear the brunt of the provincial health department’s financial collapse.

Official documents obtained by City Press this week show that the health department blew R400 million on irregular expenditure and it couldn’t show who was to receive some R2.8 billion which it had committed to paying for contracts.

The report reveals a litany of collapsed or non-existent controls involving millions of rands. It also exposes a flagrant disregard for financial management, public finance laws and legal obligations.

The report with its damning revelations was compiled by the Auditor-General last March, but City Press only managed to obtain a copy this week.

It is unclear what, if anything, was done over the last year to rectify the mess outlined in the audit report.

In the next two weeks, the accounting officers of various provincial departments, including health, face a grilling before the Limpopo legislature’s public accounts oversight committee as the search for answers continues.

This week at Lebowakgomo Hospital, 40km outside Polokwane, staff spoke of how they were so desperate for basic supplies that they had raided the institution’s emergency room, meant only to be used in case of dire emergency.

“We have no choice because we have to do our jobs. We even have to hide gloves from each other because they are fast running out,” said one doctor.

Another doctor spoke of the critical shortage of medicines for chronic illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes, as well as basic supplies like painkillers running out.

Media24 Investigations spoke to doctors who asked not to be named at hospitals in rural Limpopo as well as in Polokwane.

All had desperate tales to tell.

“I saw one patient transferred to Polokwane Hospital from a hospital in the rural areas who had not urinated for six hours because they don’t have catheters there,” said a Polokwane Hospital doctor. “You can imagine the agony that person went through.”

The doctors said they were also running out of life-saving equipment such as intercostal chest drains, used to drain blood in punctured lungs and broken ribs.

One doctor at Lebowakgomo Hospital said they were battling to perform major bone operations as the “C-arm” machine (used for imaging during surgical procedures) was not working and could not be serviced as all procurements and services are on hold.

Nehawu Limpopo chairperson Mike Shingange said conditions in hospitals were deteriorating because of poor procurement practices by the department.

“We wouldn’t be in this situation if there were proper controls and measures in place. This problem has been ongoing since 2009 because there was no regard for processes. Instead people gave tenders to politically connected individuals who were paid as they pleased,” said Shingange.

Limpopo Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) chairperson, Derrick Ngobeni, said accounting officers would be hauled before the committee on February 27 to account for the shocking state of affairs.

“We are extremely worried that the department has engaged in unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure as stated by the A-G. We are going to demand answers from the accounting officers and drastic action must be taken.

“There is the possibility that there is more to what the AG discovered,” said Ngobeni.

The provincial health department is one of five which have been placed under administration by Treasury after it ran up a budget deficit of some R2 billion.

The Limpopo health department did not respond to requests for comment.

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