Lifestyle | Health
The Eastern Cape department of health has denied claims its health services are on the brink of collapse.
The DA has decried the deterioration of tertiary hospitals in the province, which it says are facing severe staffing shortages. Shadow health MEC Jane Cowley on Monday said the Eastern Cape’s two training hospitals were on the verge of collapse, with skyrocketing vacancy rates for specialist posts.
According to health department spokesperson Sizwe Khupelo, the department has the least number of active Covid-19 cases, at only 300. Preparations for the third wave of the pandemic are being intensified, he says, amid concerns of super-spreader events increasing going into the Easter holidays.
“The health department’s war against Covid-19 continues but we are winning, so we need to intensify our communication, education and awareness. We need to work closely with members of the community and law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance with the national state of disaster regulations,” Khupelo said.
“We need to also target super-spreader events such as funerals because one of the biggest spreaders of Covid-19 in the Eastern Cape have been funerals.”
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At the Livingstone Tertiary Hospital in the Nelson Mandela Bay district, only 51.7% of specialist posts are filled, while at the Frere Tertiary Hospital in Buffalo City Metro, only 33% of full-time specialist posts are currently, Cowly said.
“The shortage of specialists can only mean one thing, people who otherwise could be saved are going to die.”
The provincial department revealed these statistics in response to the party’s legislature questions to establish the nature and extent of unfilled posts at these hospitals. Unfilled specialist posts across various departments include neurosurgery, anesthesiology, cardiology, obstetrics and gynaecology, and paediatrics.
“In a department suffering from years of maladministration and poor planning, specialist and other critical posts remain unfilled. They come in second behind vast numbers of officials, who instead of turning the fortunes of the department around, have contributed to its further decline through chaotic cadre deployment and corruption,” Cowley said.
According to Khupelo, however, staff shortages in the province were not a threat to the fight against Covid-19 because the province has extended contracts for 8,000 workers.
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“We have taken a decision to extend the contracts of Covid-19 workers who were there in the first and second wave by another three months as the existing contracts lapse on 31 March. The extension of the contracts with workers will be part of ensuring there are no staffing challenges.
“We have employed mostly young nurses to the Covid-19 wards and general workers. In terms of the vaccine roll out, the department continues to increase the vaccination of healthcare workers.”
He said recent reports that the department was on the verge of financial and administrative collapse were an exaggeration.
“People don’t properly compare the Eastern Cape to other provinces because in Gauteng, the MEC there can visit all its hospitals in a day. But in the Eastern Cape that is impossible even if we used a helicopter. We have over 90 hospitals and around 1,000 clinics. But we have been doing extremely well in terms of improving the quality of healthcare services including hospitals.”
Given that the Eastern Cape is home to millions of workers based in other provinces, Khupelo said the department is concerned about the implications of the coming Easter holidays
“The problem we have as the Eastern Cape is that we normally get imported outbreaks and we were the last province last time to have these outbreaks when people came in numbers from the Western Cape and other areas. Fortunately we have never occupied the number 1 spot for cases in the country.”
The department has overseen the vaccination of 20,000 healthcare workers in public and private healthcare facilities. It plans to have vaccinated more than 200,000 healthcare workers and funeral undertakers by 18 May 2021.
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