News / Opinion
The release of the damning report into the unnecessarily torrid death of a patient at Tembisa Hospital by the health ombud professor Malegapuru Makgoba only confirms what most of the country knows: the department of health is
in dire straits.
The death of Shonisani Lethole, a Covid-19 patient at the designated Covid-19 hospital (also a provincial teaching hospital) after going for more than 100 hours without food in June 2020 also exposes as a sham the claims that were made at national and provincial level of government that the time during the hard lockdown in April and May had been used effectively to expand capacity.
The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) was at pains to justify the social and economic hardships that citizens were put through during that hard lockdown and, for a long while, it appeared as if the NCCC had given Dr Zweli Mkhize’s health department enough time and resources to prevent the kind of excruciating death that led Lethole to tweet about his deplorable conditions from his deathbed to the health minister.
It will probably sound jarring to a lot of people that the very likable and hands-on Mkhize has been dragged into such a situation because of the incompetence and lack of heart of junior officials in his department.
But the truth is the buck stops with him, especially on this one, a Covid-19 death.
The health system in South Africa was never going to be fixed in the two months of the hard lockdown.
Its problems are so deep and structural that only a total overhaul will go some way towards fixing it.
But that does not mean that the money and resources that were thrown at the Covid-19 problem must be ignored.
Professor Makgoba’s report must serve the purpose that he put it out for: expose the depth of the rot in the department of health something can be done.
The lack of accountability, the absence of a recording system for staff and the lack of systems to ensure that patients get basics like meals and medication are signs of a system that has all but collapsed.
Tembisa Hospital was designated Covid-19 patient-receiving hospital based on a set of criteria that some professionals and politicians judged it to meet.
The ombud’s report says it is far from being ready for such.
In other words, those that designated it as such are responsible for the death of Lethole and the terrible treatment he received just before his death.
It will be a miscarriage of justice if only junior personnel and nursing staff get to take the blame for his treatment because they do not get to set up the systems.
The health minister, the provincial MEC, the hospital chief executive and the attending doctors must all be called to account.
There are South Africans who have voluntarily chosen that even if they present with symptoms for Covid-19, they will not be caught dead in a public hospital.
Given the damning ombud’s report on one of SA’s largest public hospitals, it is not surprising.
Holding those responsible to account is not a witch-hunt or an attempt to divert attention from dealing with the pandemic. It is a necessary step in the process of fixing the obviously broken department of health.
It must never be that the public feels safer outside of the public health system than within it.
Mkhize must not allow incompetence of lack of compassion to hide behind the goodwill that his national Covid-19 plan has generated.
Those who failed to set up the systems must be made to pay.
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