An issue a day chases KZN’s doctors away

‘State hospitals are chaotic, mismanaged places with broken equipment and low morale’, says doctors.
‘State hospitals are chaotic, mismanaged places with broken equipment and low morale’, says doctors.

KwaZulu-Natal doctors, frustrated by broken equipment, working extra shifts and “general systemic chaos” are leaving state hospitals to move to the private sector.

KZN Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo tabled the department’s budget speech on Wednesday, stating that there was concern over the number of doctors moving from state hospitals to the private sector.

It was suggested that doctors were making the move to private as it was more lucrative. However, a scathing statement from the South African Medical Association (Sama) last week said state doctors were being forced to work in poor conditions without the proper tools of their trade.

The association is planning a protest march next month to highlight their grievances.

Weekend Witness approached several KZN doctors and specialists working in the private and public sector and asked them to describe their frustrations with the state system.

One KZN doctor working for the state who could not be named said morale in government hospitals was “at an all-time low”.

The doctor said government hospitals were disorganised and were poorly managed.

“We order medicine and only receive half of what we ordered, and there are some drugs we do not give out anymore because they are meant to be taken consistently but sometimes take months to be delivered.

“It frustrates the patients and we don’t get any answers. We are endlessly substituting medications which is extremely frustrating.”

The doctor said a six-year-old girl had to wait two weeks to start ARV treatment because the correct medication had not arrived.

The doctor said they had to start her on a different set of ARVs and wait until the other medication came back into stock.

“It is general systemic chaos,” said the doctor.

“When doctors leave the hospital, there is no one to replace them and we are told to work extra shifts to pick up the department’s slack.

“There is money in the department but it is being wasted due to poor management.

“The CT scanners are broken and there is no one to fix them and this is really dangerous,” he said.

“Doctors are now having to open patients up to diagnose them instead of simply using a CT scan.

“We do not have what we need. When equipment breaks all we can do is sigh because we know it probably will not be fixed any time soon.

“Doctors in the private sector send out a list of the equipment and medication that is needed and they are told right away when the items will be delivered. This does not happen in the public sector.”

The doctor added that the conditions at state hospitals were not only forcing doctors into the private sector, but also overseas.

A KZN doctor working in the private sector said he had moved from practising at state hospitals many years ago because of the poor conditions.

The doctor said KZN public hospitals were suffering because of mismanagement.

“It is a real dilemma and doctors are leaving state hospitals in droves because they are not able to practise medicine and help their patients the way they were taught to.”

The doctor said while private hospitals were seeing up to 20 surgeries and operations a day, the public hospitals only saw about three or four.

The doctor said that this was due to doctors not having the correct tools, and being provided with broken equipment.

“The turnaround time is not good in public hospitals and it is blocking theatre slates and hospital beds.

“Doctors are just going through the motions because they have the expertise but cannot do what they were trained to do.”

Sama coastal branch chairperson Dr Mvuyisa Mzukwa said that doctors were truly frustrated but that the KZN Health Department was in denial.

Mzukwa said a Durban oncologist had written to the department several times about broken equipment. However, the matter had never been attended to.

Mzukwa said he knew doctors who were in the private sector and had moved to the rural state clinics and hospitals to try and help but they were only left frustrated.

“They [the department] are making fools out of doctors,” he said.

“We have heard from doctors in the rural areas that doctors have come for interviews but no one is hired and the posts remain frozen.”

The Department of Health had not responded to questions at the time of going to print.

The DA’s provincial spokesperson on health, Dr Imran Keeka, said the department has confirmed that there will be staff attrition and that vacant posts will not be filled. “There is no shortage of applicants and the department confirmed this in response to parliamentary questions in 2015. So there will be longer queues, more pain, frustrated and burnt-out staff, and unhappier patients. It is reasonable to understand that the tired staff won’t always smile and speak nicely to people.”

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