Angry KwaZulu-Natal health professionals are calling for Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo to step down, saying his “weak leadership” has “driven the health system” to the brink of collapse.
Doctors and other health professionals, who said they are frustrated at being ignored, have taken to a closed Facebook group to speak out against problems in KZN’s health system, attributing most of the blame to Dhlomo and his leadership.
Dhlomo on Wednesday told The Witness that doctors and organisations must write to him with their concerns.
Last month the South African Medical Association hosted a march in Durban in a bid to get the department to unfreeze posts at hospitals and fix broken equipment and crumbling infrastructure.
Around 1 000 medics took part.
KZN Hospital Personnel Association of South Africa (Hospersa) general secretary Noel Desfontaines said the association supported the call of those who wanted Dhlomo to step down.
“We believe there are many issues that have not been dealt with properly, such as the Addington Hospital Oncology unit. In 2013 we handed over a memorandum to the MEC but have not heard back,” Desfontaines said.
“The department is in shambles and we want the department investigated.”
He added that in his 20 years as a health professional, he had never seen doctors marching.
KZN Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) provincial organiser Mandla Shabangu said although the organisation could not put the blame for the failing health system on a single individual, Dhlomo had not come up with a clear plan on a way forward.
“We cannot blame one individual because some of the issues in the Health Department rotate around finances,” said Shabangu.
“He [Dhlomo] is in a leadership position and therefore must try harder and improve on things such as creating posts for health professionals.
“There is no willingness from his side to make alternative plans,” he said.
Doctors who have shared their grievances on Facebook have been scathing of Dhlomo’s management style.
One health professional posted that the MEC had no intention of improving conditions.
From a major shortage of staff and posts not being filled to broken equipment, health professionals across the public sector have said that something needs to change.
A KZN state doctor who could not be named said state hospital managers were also trying their best and only acted on instructions from the department. “All we know is there is no money and no posts. We are all trying to make the best of a bad situation.
“Patients do not see the MEC or the head of department [Dr Sifiso Mtshali], they only see us.
“Our hands are tied. Our patients do not see that there is a shortage of funds, we are their first and last port of call.”
Another KZN doctor who could not be named said Dhlomo had “driven the health system right down”.
“Since he came in he has been driving out good leadership and dedicated staff. He should no longer be MEC.
“Dhlomo needs to be removed, the head of department needs to be removed and there needs to be a forensic investigation into the department.”
Desfontaines said the march showed what a dire situation the public health system is in.
A Pietermaritzburg doctor said the department was “clearly moving backwards. Things are going from bad to worse and there is no transparency at departmental level so we have no idea what the MEC is doing to improve the situation.”
Another KZN doctor said Dhlomo’s leadership is weak and failing the system. “He needs to go,” he said.
DA MPL Dr Imran Keeka said health professionals within the public health system have been subject to rapidly deteriorating conditions.
“They are expected to put on brave faces and a smile through the difficult living and working conditions only to be falsely called out for the MEC’s failing. Department personnel should keep in mind that over MEC Dhlomo’s eight-year reign, the department has continued to decline to this point despite administrators and officials changing. There is only one common denominator as it seems,” said Keeka.
“Staff will have to brace for harder times, more insults, longer hours and greater medico-legal claims to start with.
“Worst affected in all of this will be patients who will have to bear the brunt of a collapsing health-care system while the MEC continues to deal with the symptoms and not the root causes in his department.”
IFP MP Ncamisile Nkwanyana said although they were not supporting the call for Dhlomo to step down, the party is very concerned about the public health system.
“It is a disgrace that doctors are leaving for private and other provinces. Soon there will be no one left.”
She said the IFP had approached Dhlomo several times with issues pertaining to the public health sector but there had been “no improvements”.
KZN Premier Willies Mchunu’s spokesperson, Ndabazinhle Sibiya, said Mchunu had held a series of meetings with Dhlomo to discuss the challenges facing Health. “The premier encourages all stakeholders to present a general strategy and once that has been finalised, he will present a way forward.”