Doctors strike: ‘Govt must take responsibility’

2009-06-23 00:00

AS the doctors’ strike started to pick up momentum in Pietermaritzburg, doctors from around the city demonstrated at the Chatterton Road traffic circle yesterday to voice their concerns about pay and working conditions.

While the Health Department maintained that the impact on health services is not as bad as was feared, doctors told The Witness that hospitals in the city could attend only to emergency cases.

Doctors said the government needs to take responsibility for the state of the public health system and address the shortage of staff in the public sector.

Doctors at the strike said: “We’re not only striking for better salaries, but also better working conditions for us and our patients.”

A doctor from Durban, who joined the strike in Pietermaritzburg, said they were complai­ning about the state of health care for their patients.

“We know that we cannot provide an adequate service to our patients,” he said. “We need human resour­ces.”

He said public sector doctors would be willing to stay in the public health care system if issues regar­ding occupation-specific dispensation were addressed.

Doctor Lwazi Manzi, intern representative of the South African Medical Association, said the striking doctors are not not trying to put people’s lives at risk.

“What we’re doing is trying to highlight the issues that government needs to address to improve health care in the country,” she said.

“Government are the custodians for our patients. We are just the ‘worker bees’.”

She added that doctors are passionate about upholding the Hippocratic Oath.

“Our doctors are amongst the best in the world,” she said. “That is why they are so in demand overseas.”

The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) has condemned the doctors’ strike.

“The HPCSA will not tolerate the neglect of patients by striking doctors, who, by their conduct, are breaking the law,” said HPCSA CEO Advocate Boyce Mkhize.

He added that those who continue to breach the Hippocratic Oath will have to bear the consequences of their conduct.

KZN Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, who helped medical staff at a Durban hospital, appealed to health workers to return to work.

“We are on record committing ourselves to an amicable resolution of these negotiations,” he said.

In Durban, more than 300 medical staff, including doctors, dentists and pharmacists from the public sector, staged a peaceful picket outside the King Edward VIII Hospital over wage negotiations and appalling working conditions.

Doctors also protested outside the Nelson Mandela Medical School in Umbilo yesterday.

Staff from the RK Khan, Addington, Osindisweni, Prince Mshiyeni Memorial, Wentworth, King George, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, King Edward, Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central, Stanger and Grey’s hospitals joined the picket.

The group called for more support from the public, saying their concerns should not be ignored.

A heavy police contingent monitored the group, but there were no incidents of violence or intimidation.

Department of Health spokesman Chris Maxon said the protesters consisted mainly of interns and junior doctors.

“At no stage were patients left untreated. The MEC has been locked in a meeting with the SANDF [South African National Defence Force] to discuss the strike,” he said.

Durban Metro police spokeswo­man Superintendent Joyce Khuzwayo said police were called in to monitor the group, which dispersed after midday.

“They did not have a legal permit to picket, but informed us about the event. There were no incidents and the group dispersed peacefully.”

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