16 May 2017

South Africa: Medics Protest As KZN Health Care System Collapses

"Management in the Department of Health is incompetent, especially at the hospital level"

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) and public interest law firm SECTION27 are warning that the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) health system is in dire straits.

On 5 May, over a thousand health workers marched in Durban to highlight the crisis. A memo, addressed to MEC for Health Sibongiseni Dhlomo, titled "Collapse of Health Services in KZN". lists 16 problems, such as a shortage of staff, caused by "unfunded, frozen and abolished posts", a lack of posts for medical school graduates doing their community service, an overtime policy that SAMA and unions have not agreed to, failures with equipment procurement, shortages of supplies, problems with medical records, and poor management.

The memo raised concerns about a lack of essential medicines and "consumables such as soap, gloves, needles". It said: "Right now, those of us who work at grassroots level feel those above have callously placed a 'do not resuscitate order' on the health system in the province."

At the march, Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa, chairman of the SAMA KZN coastal branch, which led the march, said that the department had overspent in the 2015/2016 financial year, leaving it short of funds in the current year.

Mzukwa told GroundUp the issues stem from a combination of budget cuts and management issues. "The department exceeded the budget by more than one billion rands," he said. "Management in the Department of Health is incompetent, especially at the hospital level."

A nurse at Mbalenhle clinic in Pietermaritzburg, who did not want to be named, said that the oncology and urology departments were collapsing. "Patients that could be saved are dying. We cannot do anything about it because we are always waiting for equipment to be fixed," she explained.

On Monday, SECTION27 said it had "received reports that Inkosi Albert Luthuli and Addington Hospitals are no longer able to effectively treat cancer patients due to equipment breakdowns and a shortage of specialists. Air-conditioning machines are not being repaired resulting in surgeries being cancelled or hospital infections. The Health Professions Council of South Africa has warned several departments that they will lose their accreditation to train specialists in the current situation. The consequences of the crisis extend even to needless patient deaths."

Communications Officer at the Department of Health KZN Agiza Hlongwane said that the concerns raised by SAMA are being discussed, with a solution still underway.

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