The Democratic Alliance (DA) has urged KwaZulu-Natal premier Willies Mchunu to heed the rising call of unions in the province to fire health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo without delay, says an IoL report. The appeal came after National Education, Health, and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) members marched last week over poor working conditions, including dire staff shortages.
Earlier in the week, nurses from Osindisweni Hospital also marched over the MEC’s complete lack of leadership within the department, DA KwaZulu-Natal MPL Imran Keeka said.
The report said the DA had been fighting for Dhlomo to be axed for several years as the province reeled from an unprecedented oncology crisis, he said. “During two recent oversight inspections as part of our #HospitalHealthCheck campaign, the DA witnessed first-hand just how badly nursing staff shortages are affecting patient care with long queues, no care in casualty wards, and various complaints of rudeness by nurses. There can be no doubt that many of these annoyances are the result of fatigued and burnt-out staff due to the reduced nurse to patient ratios.
“These issues are a direct result of a provincial ANC government that does not care. It is this same government that froze all critical posts, including those in healthcare in 2015. Following several legislative processes engaged in by the DA, we were informed that the moratorium on healthcare staff had been lifted. This has turned out to be the biggest lie peddled by the MEC, his department, and the premier to date as red tape continues to see critical posts unfilled,” Keeka said.
The report said in 2015 KwaZulu-Natal had about 2,200 nursing vacancies and 21,000 applicants. This confirmed that there was no shortage of people seeking such employment. In a more recent response to parliamentary questions by the DA, the premier revealed that there were now a staggering 5,926 vacancies for critical posts, including nurses, doctors, and other personnel in the province.
“While KZN’s health portfolio committee has been informed that a staff audit is underway and that criteria will be established for a minimum staff establishment per facility in the province, the process is not yet complete. This will only lead to even less unsatisfactory working conditions and patient care. Also alarming is that not enough funding has been allocated in this year’s budget to cater for increased staff employment, making it even less likely that more nurses or doctors will be employed.
“The premier must listen to the people at the very heart of healthcare in our province and fire MEC Dhlomo. Failure to do so will show that he too does not care,” Keeka said.
Hundreds of nurses from hospitals across the province marched in Pietermaritzburg last week, demanding that the KZN Health Department prioritise the demands of nurses. According to a Groundup report, the nurses said they are chronically short-staffed and underpaid.
Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) provincial organiser Bheki Gumbi said Dhlomo “must go”. “There’s an extreme shortage of resources. We are sick and tired of being in a state where we can’t serve the patients,” said Gumbi. He said nurses were being called names by patients because the nurses couldn’t cope with the numbers. “We have had enough,” said Gumbi.
The report said that during his budget speech in May, Dhlomo had announced the department would hire retired nurses. He said nurses had approached him offering to assist the department.
In a memorandum, the marchers demanded that nurses, including student nurses, be represented on the board of the South African Nursing Council (SANC). They also want SANC to give accreditation to all TVET colleges so that private student nurses benefit from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
Zonke Thwala said, “There are incidents where he (Dhlomo) has taken decisions without proper investigation … The department must give us a person who understands health … He always paints a bad picture about nurses in the media. He gets excited by the cameras and microphones. He must go. We are tired.”
The report said the memorandum was handed over at the department’s head office in the Natalia Building. The department was given a month to respond.
Head of the department Musa Gumede, said, “We will look at all the demands and respond. It is clear that some of the demands are about money. In the past we have liaised with the unions. This time we will ensure that we sit down with the workers. The office of the premier will also intervene on the matter. We are aware that there are so many problems. There will be solutions soon,” said Gumede.