Democratic Alliance (Cape Town)

4 July 2012

South Africa: Eastern Cape Healthcare a Looming Human Rights Crisis

press release

It is clear that the state of the Eastern Cape healthcare system is a looming human rights crisis.

The deteriorating state of public hospitals in the province is placing the lives of patients at risk.

If the Eastern Cape Provincial Government does not take the necessary steps to address the problems facing Eastern Cape hospitals as a matter of urgency, the Democratic Alliance (DA) will request an investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to determine the department's culpability in violating the rights of patients.

Today, my colleagues and I from the Eastern Cape legislature, Bobby Stevenson MPL and John Cupido MPL, visited the Dora Nginza and Livingstone hospitals.

We wanted to assess first-hand the conditions being faced by patients and staff.

Ahead of our visit, the DA learned that the Eastern Cape Department of Health called an urgent meeting this morning of all senior managers at the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex.

We believe that this was an attempt to silence employees ahead of the DA's visit to the complex today.

Doctors at the complex last week took the drastic step of announcing that they would be forced to cut medical services to patients due to chronic staff shortages.

It is not the doctors' actions that should be of concern to the department, but rather the conditions in which they are being forced to treat patients.

Instead of trying to silence staff, the provincial health department needs to urgently focus on addressing the staff, infrastructure and resource shortages that have brought this hospital and others in the province to a state of collapse.

The conditions at the hospitals we viewed today included:

Only one medical officer present at the casualty ward in Dora Ngiza. The reported average waiting time in casualty is 5 to 6 hours before treatment is provided;

5 Paediatric doctors have left because of the huge strain placed on them having to double up to compensate for the staff shortages;

A critical shortage of incubators. There are 32 new borns but only 6 working incubators. 4 others have been awaiting maintenance for approximately 6 months; and we found dried blood on the floors and un-cleaned floors amongst many other issues.

The DA will be taking the following steps to compel the provincial and national departments of health into action regarding the Eastern Cape healthcare crisis.

Request that the Health Portfolio Committee in the Eastern Cape provincial legislature calls for an urgent performance based audit of the Eastern Cape Department of Health by the Auditor-General.

Write to the Eastern Cape MEC for Health, Sicelo Gqobana, to request that he lobbies the relevant government structures to release the R3 billion in funding that is needed to pay doctors and nurses, plus the further R6 billion that is needed to fill the health department's reported 27 000 vacancies.

Write to the Chair of the Health Portfolio Committee in the Eastern Cape provincial legislature to request that the Eastern Cape Department of Health comes before the committee on a regular basis to brief it on the progress being made in turning the healthcare system around.

Request that the MEC for Health launches an independent enquiry into numerous reports of fraud and corruption within the Eastern Cape Health Department.

Write to the Chairperson of Parliament's Health Portfolio Committee, to request that the Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi briefs the committee on the steps his department is taking to support the Eastern Cape Provincial Health Department in addressing the collapsing provincial healthcare system.

The provision of quality basic healthcare services is essential if we are to offer all South Africans the opportunity to live lives that they value.

The DA will be monitoring the conditions at Eastern Cape hospitals closely over the coming weeks.

Patricia Kopane, Shadow Minister of Health

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