Grey’s lengthy waiting just got longer

2011-01-27 00:00

EAR, nose and throat (ENT) patients should expect longer waiting lists after two of the three ENT specialists at Grey’s Hospital resigned.

Dr Muhammad Essa and Dr Bruce McKenzie are serving notice this month.

This comes after complaints and allegations by some doctors at the hospital and in the private sector that the two have been spending more time in their private practices despite the long waiting list of patients at the hospital.

Grey’s is the only hospital in the province that does ENT operations.

Recently, Landiwe Mbatha, a patient with tonsil problems, was told at the hospital that she would have to wait for two years before her tonsils could be removed.

Hospital acting CEO Dr Ben Bilenge said state doctors were previously allowed to operate privately.

However, this privilege has been withdrawn by the department since January 1.

“We have doctors internally who are not happy with the two doctors practising privately so they started making a noise. The two, who had never neglected their duties, then decided to resign.

“This will put strain on the one ENT doctor we are left with and will definitely affect service delivery,” said Dr Bilenge.

He said there are no more than five specialists available in the province.

“Circumstances surrounding the waiting lists are that the vast drainage area of Grey’s extends to Kokstad, Paulpietersburg, Emmaus and Cato Ridge.

“Apart from the ENT unit at Grey’s, there is one private ENT in Ladysmith who does sessional work for the state. He does not have any equipment to perform ear, sinus and cancer surgery. All ENT cases are thus referred to Grey’s Hospital,” he said.

Essa confirmed that they have resigned following the “noise” made by unhappy doctors about their private and state practices. “I personally didn’t want to leave, but I had to make a choice and leaving the public sector was the option I had to take,” he said.

He said he had dedicated his time to making what the ENT unit at Grey’s is today. “It took me two years to get the department to buy the equipment to make the unit operational. This unit has been my little baby since I joined Grey’s in 2007,” he said.

McKenzie said: “Other private practitioners have been targeting us because we charge patients the normal medical aid charges while they charge 250% above the rate. When the department told us to stop working privately I then decided to resign because one cannot survive with the salary paid to state doctors. We will only do sessional work at the hospital in future.”

Department spokesperson Chris Maxon said the shortage of doctors in various specialities is a countrywide problem. He said interventions such as the occupation-specific dispensation and bursaries for students to study medicine were put in place to deal with the situation.

“Health practitioners are poached by developed countries. In the case at hand individuals need to understand the importance of helping fellow citizens,” said Maxon. He said the department withdrew the provision for doctors to practice privately while in government employment as it was discovered that some abused it.

“There’s a review on this provision to eliminate chances of abuse,” he said.

Democratic Alliance spokesperson for health John Steenhuisen said the department needs to have a system where strict guidelines are put in place to monitor the hours spent by state doctors who run private practices. He said granting bursaries to study medicine is a short-term solution because once the students graduate and serve their contractual time with the department, they look for greener pastures.

“We need to address the fundamental issues such as adequate equipment in health facilities and better working conditions,” said Steenhuisen.


GREY’S attends to 120 ear, nose and throat patients per week, of which 50 are booked for surgery. The ENT unit has one-and-a-half theatre days per week (about 11 hours).

This is utilised for 10 to 15 ear, sinus and cancer cases, and excludes any emergency cases and in-house referrals done on the emergency lists or after hours.

All these cases have potentially high morbidity and mortality rates if delayed.

Hospital acting CEO Dr Ben Bilenge said most head and neck cancer cases take an average seven hours operating time per case. Ear surgery takes about three hours and sinus surgery about two hours.

Currently there are ear and sinus operations booked for the next 18 months, and this excludes cancer surgery, which will take precedence over all electively booked cases.

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