Health services on the verge of collapse due to strike

Health services on the brink. Picture: iStock
Health services on the brink. Picture: iStock

Health services in North West are on the verge of collapse.

Some clinics are turning patients away, while others have run out of basic supplies like painkillers.

During the ongoing strike by nurses and other health workers, patients are being referred to Bophelong Provincial Hospital in Mahikeng, where they spend hours in long queues.

Others are still trying their luck at local clinics every morning.

City Press found an elderly, diabetic woman standing in front of a closed gate at the Unit 9 clinic in Mahikeng.

She pleaded with a security guard to let her in, so she could get her desperately needed insulin.

He said he could not allow her in and that they were waiting for a senior staff member to decide whether the clinic would open.

The elderly woman had been standing in a long queue across the road from the clinic on Friday morning. She and other patients waited, unsure if the facility would open.

A few hours later, the queue was gone, but a man who identified himself only as Screamer emerged from the clinic with a child.

“They have been sending people away and referring them to a clinic at Bophelong hospital because they have no medical supplies. But they have helped us with vaccinations for children. It’s sad. This has been going on for weeks now,” he said.

At Bophelong hospital, a child reportedly died while waiting for medical attention last week.

The National Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) and the provincial health department have blamed each other for the death.

Nehawu said while they were on strike, the department should implement alternative measures to ensure that services continue.

The strike has been going on for more than a month.

Instead of reporting to their posts, workers have been gathering at the department’s head office to demand, among other things, a performance bonus and the firing of department head Thabo Lekalakala.

Lekalakala has been implicated in controversial tenders, including the R180 million mobile clinic contract awarded to Gupta-linked Mediosa, without going out to tender.

The strike has led to the closure of the province’s pharmaceutical depot, from which all medical and surgical supplies are dispatched to clinics and hospitals. Now, even simple painkillers are in short supply.

Matters are set to become worse. Nehawu office bearers told City Press this week that little was coming out of their negotiations with the provincial government.

Late last month, the union and other workers marched to the office of Premier Supra Mahumapelo, demanding that he resign or be removed.

The health department said this week it had approached the national department and other provinces for help.

“The department admits that there has been disruption of deliveries from the medical depot to various health facilities,” it said in a statement.

“A meeting was held with the management of the medical depot to assess the extent of the challenges and blockages, and to come up with intervention plans or alternative solutions if the situation warrants it.

“Health facilities have reported that supplies are still available, however there are concerns of supplies running out should the labour unrest continue.”

The department said it asked the national department to help direct deliveries. Other provinces were also lending a hand.

George Mukhari Hospital in Gauteng had already sent supplies of certain items to some facilities in the Bojanala District. In the Northern Cape, some hospitals close to North West had helped hospitals in the Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati District Municipality.

To address a possible shortage of medication, the department said it was issuing only one month’s supply of chronic medication, to ensure that all patients got what they needed.

The department said a number of meetings had been held to try and reach an agreement to end the strike.

The last meeting was held more than a week ago, and the department had proposed external mediation, to which both parties agreed.


Should unions in the health sector be allowed to go on strike?

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