Does SA need nine health MECs?

2018-06-10 09:52
Scores of patients queue outside Bophelong Provincial Hospital during the recent health workers’ strike. PHOTO: Mpumelelo Buthelezi

Scores of patients queue outside Bophelong Provincial Hospital during the recent health workers’ strike. PHOTO: Mpumelelo Buthelezi

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Following the devastating strike in the North West health sector, one specialist has wondered if too many “centres of power” were making it difficult to coordinate decisions and hold anyone accountable.

“It is probably an issue of too many people making decisions that don’t correlate,” said Dr Ebrahim Variava, a Wits University professor and internal medicine specialist at Klerksdorp’s Tshepong Hospital.

“With so many centres of power, who do we ultimately hold accountable? Where does the buck stop? Is it with the MECs, the heads of departments or the minister?”

He said there had been a “major crisis” for months before the national health department took action.

“Some hospitals seem to be privileged, and the further away you go from the areas of privilege, your issues don’t strike anyone until they’re beyond boiling point.”

During the strike last month, hospital theatres had to be shut down, despite operations having been scheduled. At Taung District Hospital, doctors reported that there were no staff to feed patients, while Zeerust Hospital was completely shut down for weeks due to the volatility.

Last week, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital saw the same disruptions as members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union trashed hospital corridors. They pushed patients out of the pharmacy and casualty sections in their protest to demand they get their unpaid bonuses. The union’s other grievances included alleged corruption and problems with procurement.

“The whole health system is critically ill and needs major resuscitation,” Variava said. He added that some form of meeting, such as a “health truth commission”, was needed to identify the problems.

It has been a little over a month since the ailing North West health department was put under administration, but health professionals are still scrambling to reduce backlogs in surgeries and mitigate the consequences of chronically ill patients not receiving their medication on time.

“We’ve had a few diabetic patients admitted due to complications and a few patients have come in with epileptic fits,” he said.

Hospitals and clinics may have reopened but, just as concerned and frustrated doctors had warned, the most vulnerable people had borne the brunt of the strike.

Variava called on the SA Human Rights Commission to investigate alleged human rights violations during the strikes.

“All the issues that plagued the system before the strike still exist. We still have Telkom bills that haven’t been paid, to the extent that our phone lines were cut off last week, and doctors couldn’t make outgoing calls to other facilities on landlines.”

Variava said there had been a shortage of the antiretroviral medication AZT, but this was a result of a problem at the supplier.

Read more on:    health

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