Following an SA Medical Association march by hundreds of doctors and nurses protesting working conditions, the Inkatha Freedom Party has urged KwaZulu-Natal premier Willies Mchunu to act against health MEC Sbongiseni Dhlomo. for his “failure to address certain health-related issues in the province, especially the shortage of medical staff”.
He was criticised for his “failure to address certain health-related issues in the province, especially the shortage of medical staff”. “The protest organised by the members of the South African Medical Association (Sama) in KwaZulu-Natal to raise their concerns about the crumbling infrastructure, broken equipment, and shortage of staff due to frozen posts and cost-cutting is evidence of what we have been championing for a long time but our concerns fell on deaf ears,” IFP spokesperson Ncamisile Nkwanyana is quoted in The Citizen as saying.
“Over the past months we’ve noted with great concern the excessive ineptitude of the MEC in the operational matters of the department which poses a lot of questions in as far as the competency and/or efficiency of his leadership role. The provision of quality basic healthcare services is essential if we are to offer all South Africans the opportunity to their lead healthy lives,” she said.
“The situation in KZN is very disturbing and I can see that the whole health system is on the verge of collapse. We must also caution that the situation is just a tip of the iceberg in as far as the unbearable medical staff vacancy rate is concerned.”
Unfortunately, this overloaded the few remaining patriotic medical practitioners who went beyond their contractual obligations of employment and were never appreciated in any way. The massive frustration was the “gravitas of the problems”. Many people were dying and others had their lives impaired because of the issues at hand. No one was being held properly accountable for any poor service delivery or failed outcomes, Nkwanyana said in the report.
“On this note we have patiently observed with displeasure the utterances of the department attributing its poor performance on the bad attitude of healthcare professionals. What worries us most is that such statements are made on media platforms.
“We do not wish to engage in public spats with the leadership of the department but we will not be silent when we see that the department is failing to fulfil its obligations. The MEC must start now to spend his department’s budget funding to address these challenges. There is no more time to play mind games and gamble with people’s lives.”
Given the failures of the KwaZulu-Natal health department, coupled with a lack of consequential management for those who worked hard to “make the stay of medical practitioners and other healthcare professionals an unpleasant one”, it should be noted that medical practitioners in the province had lost confidence in the health department and in particular health MEC Dhlomo, Nkwanyana said.
“The IFP urges the KZN premier Willies Mchunu to stand up and break his silence on the failure by the department of health to address challenges facing our public institutions. He must show bold leadership against the MEC of health to make him to account for his failures. Our people are suffering in public healthcare facilities due to this but the premier is silent,” Nkwanyana said in the report
A long list of grievances relating to “the poor state of public healthcare in the province”, were contained in the five-page memorandum handed over to health head Dr Sifiso Mtshali by the Sama KwaZulu-Natal Coastal branch after the march on Friday. The Mercury quotes Mtshali as saying that the march had caught him by surprise as some of the issues raised were things the department was working on fixing and the association had not raised them with the department. “The last time we met Sama was on commuted overtime in December, then they come in April requesting an urgent meeting about the march. They had not requested a meeting about the issues they raised before the march,” he said. Mtshali, however, said they had since “found each other”.
“The memorandum talks to the entire health system and casts aspersions on the department,” Mtshali said. “It’s like everything is wrong, some of the issues are isolated incidents which are being made into a crisis.”
Mtshali said that with more than 1,000 facilities under a department which was underfunded, it was unfair to make it seem like the entire department was not functioning.
A Pietermaritzburg woman who was diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer in February lost her battle with the illness two weeks ago while waiting for radiation treatment. The Witness reports that the woman was referred to Northdale Hospital in December by her daughter’s GP where after being “sent from pillar to post” and multiple scans and blood tests later she was officially diagnosed with the illness.
Initially at Northdale they had waited for several hours before seeing a doctor who told them this was “not her field” and sent them to a gynaecologist on the other side of the building. “When we got there, the nurse said the gynaecologist worked by appointment only and we were told to come back in February. I said that my mother was sick and could not wait so they gave us a date in January.” On their return to hospital a biopsy was performed but they were told the results would be ready in February. “She was so sick, she was going to the doctor every day for pain injections,” the woman said.
The report says after being officially diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer her mother was told she could start radiation treatment only on 11 September. “Every single day was a battle for my mother … Eventually I found someone at Grey’s Hospital and begged them to give her an earlier date. I told them how she had been in and out of hospital and all doctors and nurses did was give her Panado and send her home,” the woman said.
Her mother was admitted to Grey’s in March but after two days was sent home again. “This happened for a few weeks until, on my birthday, the doctor at Grey’s asked to see my mother. “He said in front of everyone there was nothing they could do for her as the cancer had spread to her lungs and liver.” They were told her mother could live for four years with radiation therapy but nothing was done. “Everything went downhill from there. It was so heart-breaking,” she said.
According to the report, the woman said radiation was scheduled for 24 April but on 21 April she’d taken her mother back to hospital. “We waited an hour. My mom was in a wheelchair. She did not have any pain medication or anything. “Finally they saw us and admitted her. She died the next day. “She suffered until the end and nobody did anything to help us. I wanted to grab a doctor and say, ‘hey, we are here’, but I feel like they shut out that human element of feeling,” she said. “My mom was 54. She was outgoing, independent and friendly. At the end, it was like she was a completely different person.”
Medical Rights Advocacy Network (Meran) co-ordinator Poonitha Naidoo (a former state radiographer turned lecturer) is quoted in the report as saying that equipment used to treat cancer patients was complicated machinery that needed to be maintained weekly so as to operate without glitches. To forego maintenance was “irresponsible” since not maintaining them posed a risk of harm to the patients as well as the equipment shutting down. She alleged that the maintenance contract for the machinery was removed by Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo a few years ago as it was alleged the contracts were “corrupt”.
“What also bothers me is that there are patients waiting in line for MRI and CT scans,” she said. She said because so many were waiting for diagnostic scans the real burden of cancer in the province was not being noted as people were not being fully examined and diagnosed.
Mary de Haas of Meran said in the report that the KZN Health Department was responsible for the deaths of patients waiting for treatment. She said Meran had written to the department raising various issues. The letter states that an estimated 50% of cancer patients require radiotherapy but the department “has wilfully failed to maintain the necessary equipment”. It alleged countless cancer patients were deprived of life-saving treatment “because state-of-the-art radiotherapy machines are lying idle at Addington hospital … since 2013”.
The report says responding to a list of questions, KZN Health spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi said the issue of maintenance contracts for certain health technology equipment is currently under investigation. “Regarding cancer patients who require treatment, the department has said that, due to its campaigns like Phila Ma, which encourages women to test for all cancers, there has been an increase in the number of patients who visit public health facilities to seek treatment.
“Furthermore, the department has experienced resignations by health professionals in this field who joined the private sector. In this regard, KZN MEC for Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo has said that within the limited financial resources, the department would refer some patients requiring oncology treatment to private health facilities to mitigate backlogs”.
DA MPL Dr Imran Keeka said the party will be writing to the National Health Ombudsman submitting details of specific patients who died while waiting for cancer treatment. “It is our view that culpability lies squarely at the MEC’s door … Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo must accept responsibility,” he is quoted in the report as saying.
A Durban surgeon and an anaesthesiologist who were kicked out of the KZN Department of Health after their four years of training are disheartened that they have been left in limbo. They hoped to have offered a much-needed service to public health, but instead had their contracts terminated despite a critical need for specialists in local hospitals, says a Sunday Tribune report.
Surgeon, Dr Veshal Maharaj, has opted to open his own practice in Reservoir Hills, while anaesthetist, Saiyuran Naidoo, still hopes positions would be made available in the province.
The report says both doctors are aware of the reality on the ground as they had trained at Addington and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central hospitals. Like them, there are at least 42 other specialists who completed the registrar programme in December who are waiting for specialist posts to be advertised.
Maharaj, who was one of the doctors awarded a service excellence award at Addington during his four-year training, was in disbelief that the department could not create positions for general surgeons. All specialists who entered the system with him were sent e-mails to say their contracts would be terminated on 25 December. These were later extended for three months. In March, the three-month contracts were terminated, leaving some jobless.
Others settled for other posts within the department, such as medical officer – which was not specific to their training. They were told they would be added back to the system and should return to their base hospitals. To date, KZN Health’s human resources department has given them the run around, they are quoted in the report as saying.
“I know they are not indebted to give us jobs, but why kick us out when there is a desperate need for us on the ground? I am grateful to the public health system for training me in those four years as a general surgeon and I really could have given them many more years of service if they had made posts available. Those on the ground understand the challenges we face in our hospitals and to note that they can get rid of newly-qualified surgeons is disturbing,” said Maharaj.
Naidoo, the anaesthesiologist, said he was still hopeful the department would make positions available and, while he waited, he was trying to take on private jobs. “Right until the 11th hour we were given hope that there would be positions available for us so I didn’t even bother considering a plan B, but the department just kicked us out. This is absolutely disheartening. I know there is a dire need for anaesthetists because I have seen it on the ground and I still find it hard to believe that I find myself unemployed,” said Naidoo.
The report says the KZN Department of Health did not respond to queries specific to specialist posts but said doctors should look out for job adverts and compete for posts when they become available.