Fears have been raised that things could turn for the worst in the North West after services were affected at five clinics in Mahikeng alone amid the now one-month long strike in the troubled provincial health department.
A “go-slow” at a medical depot has also resulted in shortage of medical supplies at medical facilities across the province.
The department has recently been making news headlines for all the wrong reasons.
National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) members have been on strike over several issues, including the controversial R180 million contract awarded to Mediosa, a Gupta-linked company.
The province’s health MEC, Magome Masike, said his department acknowledged Nehawu’s memorandum in which workers were demanding, among others, the dismissal of the head of department Dr Thabo Lekalakala, the “termination of contracts with some companies, five percent bonus payment across the board and increase of community health workers’ salaries with immediate effect”.
Mahikeng added that among institutions affected by the strike were classes at Mmabatho and Excelsius nursing colleges in Mahikeng and Klerksdorp respectively.
He added that “operations at the medical depot have grinded to a halt and thereby stopping all deliveries of pharmaceutical and surgical supplies to public health facilities”.
It is now feared that if the strike continues and escalates, more and more services could be affected. Masike has urged striking workers to return to work and threatened a “no work, no pay” policy if they do not heed the call.
He said the impact of the strike was wider, adding that “dedicated departmental officials have been stopped from processing financial management transactions for the past four weeks which would have a negative impact on the department’s commitment to substantially reduce accruals”.
Workers at the head office have been seen over recent weeks reporting for duty only to sit outside the building the whole day.
Masike has put the blame at Nehawu’s door, saying the union “cannot claim to be fighting corruption and greed on one hand and on the other want to force management to accede to their demands through unlawful and irregular means i.e. payment of 5%, performance bonus to all employees irrespective of whether they qualify or not”.
“The approach of the department is to make sure that no government prescripts are broken in addressing union demands and further avoid risk of being sued. The department supports the investigations instituted by the office of the premier into questionable contracts including Buthelezi and High Care EMS companies, Mediosa, Marang Turnkey Solutions and Moepathutshe.
“The department will rely on the outcome of these forensic investigations on further steps that should be taken. In the interest of not endangering the lives of patients further, all employees of the department are urged to return to their work stations immediately and render services for which they are employed,” he said.
Nehawu has described Masike’s utterances as “threats”, “arrogance” and “propaganda to make the union look bad in society”.
On the closure of clinics and other facilities, the union’s provincial secretary Patrick Makhafane said their members “do not have the capacity or the keys to close any facility”.
He said Nehawu members have been doing “sit-ins” at the head office and that they did not close any clinic.
Makhafane said, however, clinics would be affected due to a “go-slow” by workers at the medical depot.
The union released a statement on Wednesday in which they criticised the department over its statements.
“The public response by the department is not in any way trying to remedy the current situation – instead it does the opposite by worsening it. At the end of the day, it is community members that are suffering and we can now confirm that the leadership of the department and government do not care as they are not using public health facilities for medical attention,” Nehawu said.
“To try and score cheap publicity will not resolve the situation and we want to caution the department against misconstruing issues raised by the union as this leads to prolonging the process of finding a suitable resolution to the impasse.”
The union and the department were due to meet on Wednesday night in a bid to resolve their issues and avoid a wider negative impact on health services in the province.