KZN braces for doctors' strike

2009-06-21 22:25

Pietermaritzburg - KwaZulu-Natal's public health service could all but grind to a halt on Monday if predictions of an 80% strike by doctors and health professionals proves accurate, but Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo was optimistic on Sunday that the strike threat is an empty one.

Health spokesperson Chris Maxon issued a statement on behalf of the MEC stating that negotiators are confident that most health professionals in the public service will not heed the call by those in favour of a “wildcat” strike, which could endanger patients’ lives, but will wait for the outcome of negotiations on the occupation specific dispensation (OSD).

The next round of talks is due to be held on Wednesday.

“Our experience in the past is that most doctors did not join strikes,” he said.

Maxon said, however, in the event that strike action does go ahead and there is a need for it, the Health Department will call on the assistance of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

“[The SANDF] will take over in those institutions where their services are required,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Shailendra Sham, a representative of KZN’s doctors, said their patience with government has been stretched to the limit. He told The Witness it is anticipated that 70% to 80% of health professionals in this province, including doctors, will strike on Monday, effectively shutting down all but a few emergency services.

Ethics at stake

The figure in some of the other provinces may be lower, he said.

He said the length of the strike action will “depend on the attitude and response by the Department of Health”.

“It will go on until our demands are met," he said.

“We expect in KwaZulu Natal that 70% to 80% of the staff will strike, but that action will snowball as time goes on.”

He said although doctors realise that ethics are at stake they are “so desperate” and their grievances have been ignored for so long that they feel they have no other option.

“They know they will be putting their jobs on the line. Hundreds are going to get fired, but the reality is that things are so bad they no longer care,” he added.

Sham said people are “dying any­way” due to a public health service that is already “on the brink of collapse”, adding that government has persisted in its refusal to acknowledge this fact.

“They just keep on issuing statements saying there is no problem, there is no crisis, which is absolutely not the truth,” he said.

He was also critical of the media for failing to adequately inform the public about the plight facing the public health service ahead of Monday's planned mass action.

Not taken seriously

“It seems as if we are not being taken seriously,” he said.

Sham said it is difficult for health professionals to make their point as any form of active protest by them is banned in law.

A media release explaining the need for health professionals to embark on mass action says the challenges facing the SA public health service relate to staffing, infrastructure, equipment and remuneration.

“This has over a number of years, resulted in the steady deterioration of both human and infrastructural resources which has now reached critical proportions and threatens to collapse the entire public health system.

"For many years employees have extended their services far in excess of the requirements and responsibilities stated in their job descriptions and remuneration levels that has resulted in the propping up of the progressively failing health system.

“The public health service is losing experienced staff on a daily basis resulting in the public sector health care system becoming characterised by poor hospital facilities, poor supervision for junior doctors due to overworked and insufficient senior staff and deficits in medical teaching and training,” it states.