When Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku was sworn in last year, he committed to turning the department around – a department premier David Makhura described as being “on its knees”. Spotlight sat down with Masuku to talk about staff morale, Covid-19, the National Health Insurance, Mamelodi Hospital and other issues.
It’s been a stressful week for Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku as the potential spread of Covid-19 piles pressure on his already strained portfolio.
Four new cases of coronavirus were announced in Gauteng on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the four infected Gauteng residents are a 33-year-old woman who travelled to Italy and returned to South Africa on March 1; a 34-year-old man and his 33-year-old wife who returned from Germany on March 9; and a 57-year-old man who travelled to Austria and Italy, returning on March 9.
In total 13 Covid-19 cases had been reported in South Africa by Wednesday.
Covid-19 – on high alert
On Tuesday, after visiting the country’s second Covid-19 positive patient at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg, Masuku declared the 37-year-old woman well and “out and about”.
Speaking to Spotlight following the visit, he said: “She is well. We’re just waiting for the last swab test results taken this morning. But she is ready to go home; she is asymptomatic, no sneezing, no coughing, no nothing. She was walking around. She is out and about, I mean it’s a big ward.”
The woman was discharged soon after Masuku’s visit.
He said so far no staff who treated the woman, who was in an isolation ward at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, were thought to be infected.
“No staff have been infected, not that we know of,” he said. “But all of them covered themselves when they entered that space. Staff are wearing protective gowns, hats, gloves and masks.”
He said 30 beds have been readied to treat Covid-19 patients at three Gauteng hospitals – Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital, Steve Biko Academic Hospital and Tembisa Provincial Tertiary Hospital.
“The virus affects the lungs,” said Masuku. “This is why most of the patients come in with respiratory problems, pneumonia and shortness of breath. A protocol has been identified which we are working on, in terms of medication and support. It’s supportive treatment, which deals mainly with the symptoms. Quarantine is key. So, at these designated hospitals we have created space to isolate people.”
Masuku said South Africans returning from Italy would be kept in isolation.
“We’re dealing with scenarios. I mean Italy is on lockdown. We are not expecting that a lot of people will be returning from Italy at the moment.
If they do come back from Italy and they don’t have the symptoms, even then they will have to be isolated for a period, which is 10 to 14 days, when we will do a swab to check if there are any virus particles in their bodies.”
Most of South Africa’s 13 cases were people who recently travelled to Italy.
Better to be conscious
Asked how the potential spread of Covid-19 would impact Gauteng’s public hospitals which are already under pressure, Masuku said he was optimistic that the virus would be contained.
“It is those with a risk of exposure and a history of travelling. It can be contained, it’s a matter of us working together, as the public, as citizens. And it starts with regular hygienic practices that need to be observed.
“Like, washing hands. If you’re going to shake hands, you should wash your hands afterwards. I see everybody is now doing the elbow bump. It’s better to be conscious than to be affected.”
At the start of the interview with Spotlight at the Gauteng legislature last week, Masuku declined to shake hands. “These are preventative measures,” he said.
On May 28 last year, Masuku was sworn-in as Gauteng’s MEC for health, inheriting a department described by Makhura as being “on its knees”.
This despite receiving the biggest budget allocation – R50 billion – of the provincial. At the time, Masuku noted his commitment to turning the department around.
The case of Mamelodi Hospital
On the same day as Masuku’s inauguration last year, 76-year-old patient Martha Marais was found handcuffed to a steel bench at Mamelodi Hospital in Pretoria.
Masuku has since appointed a new chief executive officer of Mamelodi Hospital – Dr Naing Soe – one of 11 such appointments around the province.
“I last visited Mamelodi Hospital last year,” said Masuku. “But we spent a lot of time going there. I think it was one of the places which were over visited, by so many different stakeholders. Portfolio committee members, the SA Human Rights Commission and members of the opposition parties.
So, there’s been a lot of attention. This year, I want to give Dr Soe time to institute what he thinks would be the best turnaround plan for the place. And I think for the past few months, he has done well. I think he has corrected some basic things.
“This I see from feedback by people who I didn’t even send [there[. People who just go there on their own. The cleanliness, you know, the flow [of patients] in casualty. So, I’m confident that with more work, upgrades in the maternity ward – all this will help with the flow of patients.”
During interview in a boardroom in the legislature in central Johannesburg, Masuku poured himself a cup of coffee.
“I think Dr Soe’s experience speaks volumes,” he said. “And it was significant to choose him for Mamelodi. As I said, Mamelodi will always be a benchmark for me.
“Dr Soe turned around Tshwane [District Hospital] in a short time, and his legacy lives on there. But I also think it’s good for him to have a change of scenery, to navigate new challenges.”
Boosting staff morale
Meanwhile, in October Masuku launched an Employee Value Proposition (EVP) programme aimed at boosting the morale of health staff in Gauteng. “We launched it at Thembisa, coincidentally,” he said.
“So, we’ve been doing a lot of work in terms of recognition. One of the things we did – I also felt that it was a bit cheesy – on my birthday we created a giant cupcake sculpture of the Mpilo app [a patient engagement mobile application, launched by the department in September].
“So, these cupcakes we distributed to all the staff members in the head office. We are also giving monthly certificates of recognition for hard work, commendations for staff who do extra work. Also, for the first time in six or seven years, the department had an end of year function.”
Masuku is enthusiastic about the Mpilo app. At this stage, 2 000 people have downloaded it. He said they are developing the app to help with Covid-19 screenings.
“And the other thing about the EVP, what we have done is to recruit staff for posts at facilities – just the issue of filling up posts,” said Masuku. “We have been working tirelessly at different things. I don’t want to be one who plans forever. We execute.”
Spotlight’s interview with Masuku followed the premier’s state of the province address (Sopa) on February 26.
NHI and concerns about corruption
The following day, Masuku’s Sopa debate speech focused primarily on the proposed NHI legislation.
In his speech, he said: “We must complete the puzzle and the ingredients that will make a uniquely South African model of universal healthcare successful.”
When Spotlight asked Masuku about concerns over possible corruption in the proposed NHI Fund, he admitted that these concerns around the NHI becoming a conduit for corruption, as raised by the DA’s Jack Bloom, among others, were well-founded.
“I think it’s fair anxiety,” he said. “We also share the same anxiety. But I feel that we are learning as we speak, how we are going to increase our vigilance and our transparency.
“And I think watching the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, and all that, it gives us good lessons on how we have to improve accountability and improve our systems, you know, going forward.”
This article was produced by Spotlight – health journalism in the public interest
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