Medical institutions in the uMgungundlovu district need to fill critical posts, accelerate rationalising of hospitals and improve mental health services. So said members of the provincial legislature on Wednesday, who concluded a two-day oversight of the district’s healthcare facilities. “Critical” staff vacancies were flagged at Doris Goodwin Hospital, Appelsbosch Hospital and Townhill Hospital. Townhill had to make do with just three psychiatrists — one of whom is the hospital manager, the committee heard. The hospital had five vacancies for psychiatrists. The Witness reported on Wednesday that there were vacant critical posts at Doris Goodwin Hospital, which is responsible for treating drug-resistant TB for the entire district. Appelsbosch Hospital, which was visited on Wednesday, was asked to hand over a list of its 23 medical vacancies to the committee so they could come up with solutions to the hospital’s understaffing. On Friday, Premier Willies Mchunu and the provincial Treasury will meet with the provincial and national ministry of Health to assess problems the province currently faces. MEC for Treasury, Belinda Scott, told The Witness on Wednesday that her department was in a better position to come up with solutions to the problems in the health sector after the oversight visits. “Critical posts is a problem and they shouldn’t limit the word ‘critical’ to just doctors and nurses — a shortage of cleaners could mean infections spread,” she said. Scott welcomed proposals made to rationalise services at at least two uMgungundlovu health institutions. Doris Goodwin Hospital is proposed to be combined with Richmond Hospital, which also has a TB treatment focus, and Montebello Hospital with Appelsbosch. She said: “It has to happen. Where there are too many doctors and too few, those can be combined. I, as MEC for Finance, would like to see whether it will [sort out the] staff problems.”Acting committee chairperson, Mark Steele, said they had picked up concerns with the state of mental healthcare during the meetings. In addition to the staff shortage at Townhill, Appelsbosch said it was without any psychologists. Patients at Townhill were also, on average, being released nearly 150 days earlier than the national recommendation, the committee was told. “Patients are falling through the cracks,” Steele said. “The fact is, if Appelsbosch is referring patients to Townhill, which is understaffed and under pressure, that is a problem,” Steele said. He said the district should consider psychiatric support systems at community level. The committee will reflect on the resolutions drawn up from the oversight visits in the coming weeks. They will ask the Department of Health to intervene where necessary. Similar oversight visits were held across KZN over the last two days by teams of MPLs.