Make it count, minister

2011-10-28 00:00

WHEN I received word last week that the then Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi would be making unannounced visits to hospitals in Durban to test whether the spirit of Batho Pele (people first) was working, I was immediately interested.

In the past, provincial health MECs have uncovered a number of poor practices and services through unannounced visits and it made sense that the Public Service Minister would be keen to see these for himself.

Besides, there are a number of repeat-offender institutions in Durban: places like Mahatma Gandhi, R. K. Khan and Prince Mshiyeni Memorial hospitals that are always in the news for the wrong reasons. It seemed logical that those would be the places to visit.

But this was not to be. Despite a strong rumour that Baloyi was going to tackle Mahatma Gandhi, he opted instead to go to King Edward Hospital.

King Edward is a shabby place with poor facilities, but it is adjacent to the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson Mandela School of Medicine. There are plenty of doctors and learner-doctors, who use King Edward as their training ground and the standard of clinical care is generally considered to be good.

Baloyi and his entourage finally arrived at the hospital after midday — long after most patients have been processed.

He visited the pharmacy department, the patient records department, casualty and the kitchen.

Most patients had already been processed and the only complaint he received was from a patient who had received shabby services at R. K. Khan Hospital and had ended up coming to King Edward Hospital.

In the one place where there were grounds for complaint — the kitchen — Baloyi and his bloated entourage did not even notice that there were open drains running through the place filled with dirty water and litter, pipes leaking everywhere.

The only person who appeared disgusted by the place was the provincial health ombudsman.

After about an hour of talking largely to officials, Baloyi was ready to leave. When I asked him why he had not chosen a known problem hospital, he seemed flustered and assured me that it had been a “random” selection.

He gestured to one of his many staff members and told them to take down the names of the hospitals I had mentioned. No one did. They got into their SUVs and sped off around the corner to where the minister was to address a meeting of public servants.

Far from being random, King Edward Hospital had clearly been selected for the sake of convenience.

Despite being touted as a “surprise”, the best parking spots in the usually overcrowded lot had been empty when the Minister arrived.

It smacked of an empty public relations exercise — a wasted opportunity when every effort is needed to ensure that the standards in public hospitals are improved ahead of the implementation of the National Health Insurance scheme. — Health-e News Service.

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