Last week a BBC investigation drew worldwide attention to the Eastern Cape's "hospitals of horrors", writes Medicalbrief. This week Health Minister Dr Zweli-Mkhize's "team of experts" to address the collapse of the province's health system under the COVID-19 pandemic announced that among their first intervention would be to advertise for new managers for Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth.
This week, responding to a plea from the province's premier, a SA National Defence Force medical team also arrived in the Eastern Cape to assist.
According to a report in The Herald, that was the word from Eastern Cape Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba during a virtual meeting called to brief Nelson Mandela Bay COVID-19 response teams and other officials about the new unit. The report says Livingstone Hospital’s permanent management team was suspended in November 2018 after a strike by Nehawu members, who demanded its departure. The top managers were never replaced and the hospital – which is at the forefront of the Bay’s fight against the pandemic – has been led by numerous acting CEOs in the interim.
Last week, provincial leader Oscar Mabuyane announced that a team of experts had been deployed to the Eastern Cape to address a number of pressing challenges in the province, including service delivery issues, clinical problems at some hospitals and infrastructure constraints. Mabuyane said national Health Minister Zweli Mkhize had deployed the experts after he had asked for help in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The experts found a multitude of problems and suggested a project management unit be established.
The unit was set up and is led by Mkhize’s special adviser on the NHI, Dr Sibongile Zungu. It also includes financial turnaround specialist Dr Monde Tom and human resources expert Laurence van Zuydam.
The report says Tom is expected to design and drive an integrated organisation-wide intelligence and information system that supports the decision-making process, resource allocation, operational efficiency, effective interventions and impact of the health systems. “He will work closely with the business continuity team and regional co-ordinators to build systems of shared service with a strong digital transformation agenda to streamline all workflows, embedded in AI systems and decision-making support capability,” Sicwetsha said.
Van Zuydam, who is head of transversal human resource management in Mabuyane’s office, will focus on redesigning the organisational structure, functions and critical processes of the department of health to create a central governance structure designed for rapid decision-making.
The Eastern Cape’s crippled public health system is running out of critical oxygen supply, after it failed to put the strict lockdown to good use and did not prepare for the COVID-19 surge it is currently experiencing. Business Day reports that this is according to leading health expert Professor Shabir Madhi who said the province’s public health care facilities are now so overwhelmed by the surge in COVID-19 cases that patients are reportedly fighting one another for the meagre supply of oxygen.
The province has confirmed its medical oxygen reserves were strained and that it was in talks with suppliers to rectify the dire situation. And, Madhi said the oxygen shortage in the Eastern Cape “is probably going to continue like this for the next two weeks”.
“Hopefully this will serve as a lesson for other provinces as well (that) if you didn’t use the lockdown period to stock up on supplies (it will all result in a) wasted opportunity.”
Mkhize is quoted in the report as saying that plans to set up oxygen tanks at various hospitals across the country were under way as the government prepares for the expected surge in cases. He said they had engaged with companies to ramp up supply to put up “oxygen concentrating tanks” at the facilities.
Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane said the shortage was a “untenable situation for the provision” of health care to the province's citizens. “We are working with (gas supplier) Afrox to establish bulk oxygen banks in all 19 district hospitals in our province to fully address the shortage of oxygen.”
A South African National Defence Force (SANDF) medical team has landed in the Eastern Cape in response to a plea from Mabuyane for assistance in grappling with the pandemic. Polity reports that the Eastern Cape province has the third highest number of infections after Gauteng – which has become the country’s epicentre of the virus – and the Western Cape.
Mabuyane welcomed SANDF medical staff at Cecilia Makhiwane Hospital in the Mdantsane township of East London, telling journalists that the personnel would provide much needed assistance to the province. Members of the medical team had spent a week in Port Elizabeth, Mabuyane said, adding that the SANDF health workers had shared invaluable insights in a province whose healthcare system has been slammed as inadequate to handle the pandemic.
“They have been well received by the staff and there was a particular day they had to attend to more than 250 cases," Mabuyane said. He said a renewed government ban on the sale of alcohol would also ease pressure on the health system.
A number of improvements were already evident in hospitals where members of the SANDF medical team had been deployed, the premier added.
Full report in The Herald (subscription needed)
Full Business Day report
Full Polity report
Nehawu criticises conditions at PE’s Livingstone Hospital
‘Furious’ Mkhize steps in to bolster Eastern Cape’s ‘weak’ efforts to fight COVID-19
Eastern Cape hospitals crisis: ‘Patients fight one another for oxygen’
‘Overwhelmed’ Eastern Cape calls for SANDF help to fight pandemic