Health workers on warpath

A MAJOR health crisis is set to engulf the country as doctors, nurses and other health workers,Picture: FLICKR

A MAJOR health crisis is set to engulf the country as doctors, nurses and other health workers threaten to down tools over poor management of health facilities, non-payment of overtime, a lack of resources and generally poor working conditions.

In the North West province, the government has already closed at least five clinics and is running out of antiretrovirals because of an ongoing strike.

Claims that in Gauteng doctors are threatening to stop working over nonpayment is further heightening the crisis. Parliament was also forced to intervene to defuse tensions over claims of poor management at the Khayelitsha Hospital in the Western Cape.

The nurses who are members of trade unions Denosa and Nehawu in the North West province have been on strike since February 26.

The unions are demanding that the head of department, Dr Thabo Lekalakala, be fired. They have also called for an end to private ambulance services and a change in the recruitment policy for nurses in the province. Religious leaders have tried to intervene but their efforts were in vain. “The strike will continue until our demands are met,” Nehawu provincial secretary Patrick Makhabane said.

“However, we are ready to meet with the task team appointed by the premier on Tuesday and deliberations there will determine our next course of action,” Makhabane said. The Stop Stock Outs project, supported by the global humanitarian group, Doctors Without Borders, reported that the antiretrovirals used to treat HIV in adults and children are not available and that immunisation of children below nine months has been cancelled in some clinics due to insufficient supplies.

North West health department spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane described the situation as “a crisis”. “We are sitting on a crisis hence our appeal to the national department for assistance. We look forward to a breakthrough as external mediation efforts continue,” he said.

Meanwhile, barely a month after health workers under the unions Denosa and Nehawu staged a sit-in at the Gauteng health MEC’s offices demanding overtime payment dating back three years, doctors working in public hospitals have now come out to say they will not work extra hours if they are not going to be paid for them. According to a doctor employed by the Gauteng department of health, a directive was issued which stopped payments for overtime work. The doctor, who asked not to be named, said that the department claimed not to have money because of the multimillion-rand settlements in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

To add to the anger, doctors say they have not been paid performance bonuses for the past two years, while they have had to tolerate “measly salary increases”. “There is that general sense among doctors that the department is using Esidimeni not to pay doctors,” the doctor said.

“The tragedy has nothing to do with the situation they find themselves in. Some workers are on a go slow just to send a message that this could blow out of proportion if they don’t pay us.” Yesterday DA shadow health MEC Jack Bloom said he had received reports that doctors at Tembisa, Leratong and Yusuf Dadoo hospitals and possibly others had not been paid overtime. Bloom said some doctors at Chris Hani Baragwanath had been paid half their overtime pay.

A site visit by Parliament’s select committee on petitions and executive undertakings to the Khayelitsha District Hospital revealed that unresolved disciplinary hearings and dismissal of senior staffers were hampering service delivery at the facility.

Committee chairperson Dumisani Ximbi said they were inundated with complaints from senior nurses. “The buildings and equipment at the hospital are of a high standard but the service delivered to the community of Khayelitsha is displeasing and unacceptable. The hospital is failing the people of Khayelitsha,” Ximbi said.

He said more abhorrent was the number of patients lying on the floor and a large number of patients slumped in chairs with some having been there since noon the previous day.

“The hospital is said to face a severe shortage of beds as patients are assisted according to the severity of their illness. Dr Anwar Kharwa, chief executive of the hospital said that it becomes especially challenging over the weekend when the hospital faces a spike in trauma cases related to violence,” Ximbi said.

Colleen Smart, spokesperson for the Western Cape health MEC, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, declined to comment on the matter and said the department must first investigate to verify the claims made.