Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni
Premium Journalist
3 minute read
4 Jun 2018
5:00 am

Gauteng health is on life support

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

The SA Medical Association (Sama) has warned that the Gauteng health department is heading for a financial disaster similar to that of North West.

The North West health department was put under national administration in April following a month-long strike and allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

The Gauteng health department has struggled for two years to pay performance bonuses to medical staff, which led to the shutdown of Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital last week.

The strike was led by members of various unions, including the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa).

Sama was responding to news that all the provincial departments would foot the bill for the damages awarded in March to families in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

“It is very worrying,” said Sama chairperson Dr Mzukisi Grootboom. “And we hope that the health department will not end up paying the bulk of this, because already we are being told that there are no funds to employ new doctors, and we have been seeing in the media all of the instances where doctors were struggling to find employment after their internships.

“It really is a disaster.

“Surely, [Gauteng] is headed in the same direction as the North West, Limpopo and Eastern Cape health departments.”

Grootboom also pointed out that, in January, Gauteng finance MEC Barbara Creecy denied that the decision to end government’s contract with Life Esidimeni was due to financial constraints, as claimed by former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.

During the arbitration into the 144 deaths of mental health patients after they were moved en masse from Life Esidimeni, Mahlangu claimed her department was under pressure to cut costs.

The transfer alone cost the national department R6 million.

Gauteng DA shadow MEC for health Jack Bloom has expressed concern that service delivery may be jeopardised by government’s decision to have other departments pitch in to foot the arbitration bill

“The funds to pay the R160.64 million arbitration award to 135 families of Life Esidimeni patients, who suffered and died, will come proportionately from all provincial government departments,” said Bloom, citing statements made by Gauteng director-general Phindile Baleni at an oversight meeting last Friday.

“The national health department has been asked to assist, but this doesn’t seem likely as they already paid R6 million for the relocation of Esidimeni patients from unsuitable NGOs to proper treatment centres.”

The department was already facing a negligence claim bill of over R22 billion.

Meanwhile, the Gauteng ANC has urged police to deal with acts of criminality “which place the lives of patients at risk”, in response to last week’s chaotic protests at Charlotte Maxeke.

In a statement issued yesterday following the Gauteng ANC’s provincial executive committee (PEC) meeting on Friday, secretary Hope Papo said they had noted “with shock and disapproval the unprecedented escalation of destructive and life-threatening industrial action among workers in the health sector, where patients have now become the target”.

“We call on the authorities to deal firmly with any acts of criminality that put the lives of patients at risk. At the same time, we call on the Gauteng department of health and the unions to find an urgent and amicable solution to the current dispute on bonuses in the best interests of patients.”

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi on Friday put the responsibility to deal with the impasse squarely on the shoulders of the province.

Asked whether he would concede that the strike could have been averted had the provincial department addressed the performance bonus grievance, Motsoaledi said: “The issue of unpaid performance bonuses is not a matter for the national [department] of health. If [the Gauteng health department] needed my assistance, they would have said so.

“Gauteng has a premier, an MEC for health and MEC for finance to address the matter.”

The minister paid a visit to the hospital on Thursday night, after which he told The Citizen: “I went there because I was angry. I felt that, regardless of how genuine your grievance may be, you have no reason to attack patients who have nothing to do with this.”

The Gauteng health department could not be reached for comment yesterday.