Life Healthcare group in E Cape under fire for alleged staff mistreatment, 'denying access' to MPs

A health worker takes samples from a man to test him for Covid-19 coronavirus.
A health worker takes samples from a man to test him for Covid-19 coronavirus.
Pedro Pardo, AFP
  • Parliament's portfolio committee on health and select committee on health and social services will meet with Life Health Group next week. 
  • National health oversight committee chairperson Dr Sibongiseni Dlomo and Eastern Cape Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, were allegedly barred from Life St Mary's in Mthatha during an oversight visit.
  • Premier Oscar Mabuyane will table a report on the incident during a special executive council meeting to be held on Friday.

One of the top hospital operators in the country - the Life Healthcare Group has come under fire from Parliament and the Eastern Cape government - after allegations of mistreatment of staff at their Eastern Cape hospitals surfaced and for allegedly denying access to parliamentary officials.

Chairperson of the national health oversight committee Dr Sbongiseni Dhlomo and Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba said in a statement this week that they were barred entry to Life St Mary's Hospital in Mthatha where they visited to investigate the allegations.

Dhlomo said the hospital was identified for an oversight visit because of challenges it faced regarding high numbers of Covid-19 infections affecting staff and patients.

Dhlomo said he sought a report about the challenges and the status of readiness of the hospital regarding Covid-19.

But the team, which also comprised health superintendent general in the Eastern Cape Dr Thobile Mbengashe, left empty handed after they were apparently denied entry.  

Facilities informed

The Portfolio Committee on Health and Select Committee on Health and Social Services were on their second week of oversight visits to assess the state of quarantine sites and readiness of public and private hospitals to deal with Covid-19 across the country.

Dhlomo said: "It is quite surprising as we had informed identified health facilities, including Life St Mary's Hospital in Mthatha, of the committees' intended oversight visit in the Eastern Cape. Among the identified hospitals was Life St Mary's, which has been in the public domain with regard to the challenges it has been experiencing relating to high numbers of Covid-19 infections, affecting both its staff and patients.

"The CEO did not leave any kind of report of the challenges and the status of readiness of the hospital regarding Covid-19. This is shocking and inappropriate of the CEO."

Dlhomo said the Life Healthcare Group has requested to meet with the committees next week to share the readiness of its hospitals to curb and fight the spread of Covid-19.

Dhlomo said "when we meet with Life Healthcare Group next week the first thing they have to do is to account and explain the behaviour of their CEO".

READ | Coronavirus: Eastern Cape overtakes Gauteng as infection rate rises rapidly

On Thursday Premier Oscar Mabuyane joined the fray and announced that he has asked Gomba for a report of the incident to be tabled at a special executive council meeting on Friday.

His spokesperson Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha said: "In response to the allegations made by the people of the province about bad treatment of healthcare workers and patients by Mthatha Private Hospital, Life St Mary’s and Life Beacon Bay private hospitals, Eastern Cape province, Mr Lubabalo Oscar Mabuyane has tasked the Health MEC, Sindiswa Gomba to submit a report about these allegations."

"The decision by Life St Mary’s hospital in Mthatha to deny access to the hospital premises to the members of the Health Portfolio Committee from national Parliament, Health MEC, Sindiswa Gomba who were on the oversight visit to the hospital to investigate the same allegations, will also be included in the report. Premier Mabuyane is concerned by the alleged conduct by these hospitals."

The report would be presented to a special meeting of the executive Council of the Province on Friday.

Engagement with provincial government

Sicwetsha said the provincial government, through the department of health issues operational licenses to the private health hospitals and "it is the responsibility of the provincial government to ensure that all license holders comply with the license conditions. Upon receiving the report, the provincial government will take a decision that is aimed at ensuring protection of the lives of healthcare workers".

Responding to News24 on Thursday, Life Healthcare Group CEO Adam Pyle said the group has been engaging with the Eastern Cape provincial government in response to various allegations made about some of the group's Eastern Cape facilities.

READ | Mkhize: Covid-19 in the Eastern Cape showing same pattern that drove up Western Cape outbreak

"Our engagement has included thorough discussions of all our Covid-19 safety measures, protocols and reporting which has been well received by government officials. Additionally, these discussions have cleared up misunderstandings around official government visits at Life St Mary's Hospital and outlined our stringent PPE protocols for staff, doctors and patients as well as our Healthcare Workers Exposure Policy which are aligned to NICD guidelines.

"Additionally, we have highlighted aspects of our Employee Wellness Programme, which offers our staff and doctors free access to support and counseling services," said Pyle.

"We welcome on-going discussions and collaboration with the provincial government to ensure that we continue to provide safe working environments for our staff and doctors to be able to provide quality care to Covid-19 positive and negative patients."

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