The head of a parliamentary committee received death threats just hours after exposing “inexcusable” levels of medical care for patients at Matikwane Hospital in Hazyview‚ Mpumalanga, reports The Times. Dr Makhosi Khoza‚ chair of the portfolio committee on public service and administration‚ received threatening calls over two days – one even revealing her exact whereabouts.
The report says the committee recently paid an unannounced visit to the hospital and was “alarmed by the inexcusable service being rendered by healthcare officials” at the facility.
The committee’s diagnosis of the problems at Matikwane Hospital was scathing. “What disappointed the committee the most was the lethargic manner with which people are treated at the facility. One elderly patient had reported to the hospital on two consecutive days without getting the much-needed treatment. This is completely unacceptable and must be adequately addressed‚” said Khoza.
More cause for alarm was the discovery that the hospital did not have an in-house laundry service‚ resulting in a “continuous struggle with laundry and the loss of inventory”‚ as linen is shuttled between the hospital and a service provider.
Khoza‚ said in a radio interview that hospital management misled the committee during the oversight visit about the level of care offered to patients. “Despite the information we were given about a two-hour turnaround time … from the time you come into the hospital up to the time you leave‚ we actually discovered patients had been there for two days and they had not even been given their files‚” she said. The report says a hospital executive‚ whom she knew‚ phoned immediately afterwards. “He was furious and he was telling me‚ how dare I speak to the media about what is happening in Mpumalanga.” He made several threats.
Then‚ she said: “In the early hours of the morning … I received a call that was very detailed about my whole travel from the time I left until I got to the hotel I was going to check in at‚ even the room number.”
The report says Parliament has condemned the threats and has reported the incident to law enforcement agencies for investigation.
This unprecedented public argument between a national Member of Parliament and Mpumalanga’s Health MEC – both ANC members – has finally dragged the province’s dysfunctional health service on to the national stage. And, says a Health-e News report, it has also opened a can of worms about the poor performance of many provinces in implementing national health policy, which is one of the biggest obstacles to effective health service delivery.
The report says that after the encounter with Mpumalanga Health MEC Gillion Mashego, Khosa fumed on Facebook: “The MEC of Health in Mpumalanga had the audacity to threaten me for performing my oversight function…. Why should I not share with South Africans my disgust at those who are betraying our mission of liberating our people? I refuse to be silenced. The ANC I know does not tolerate mediocrity. The ANC I know wants us to serve the interest of South Africans.
“I’m not accountable to him. If he wants me to sugar coat the plight of the frail and voiceless, the service providers who are not paid within our 30-day turn around policy, the citizens who are ready to turn their backs on us because we are fulfilling our promises, he is wrong.”
It appears that the MEC, who has been in office since May 2014, wanted to be informed of the MPs’ visit in advance. According to Mpumalanga ANC spokesperson Sasekani Manzini: “The ANC in Mpumalanga would like to express it’s sincere disappointment on the conduct of comrade Makhosi Khoza, whom we expected to comradely inform the leadership of the ANC in the province or our deployees in the (health) department that the committee was overseeing.”
But the report says, the portfolio committee wanted to conduct a proper investigation instead of a publicity stunt. It had decided to visit Mpumalanga, focusing particularly on its health department, because it had identified a number of performance problems. One was the department’s zero percent compliance with the Financial Disclosures Framework (FDF) Act, which compels senior public servants to disclose their registered assets in order to identify conflicts of interest. In comparison, other provincial health departments’ compliance is over 80%.
Describing this disclosure failure as providing “a breeding ground for corruption”, Khosa said her committee had found that the health department was in a “state of paralysis”, citing 12 581 unpaid invoices as one example of this.
But it is the MPs’ visit to Matikwana Hospital in Bushbuckridge that seems to have really enraged the province, the report says. Although the visit was supposed to be unannounced, Khoza said that hospital officials had been tipped off and tried to stage-manage the visit, telling MPs that patients did not wait more than two hours to be attended to. But when the MPs finally managed to speak to patients, they found that some people had been waiting for two days and still not been given their files, let alone been attended to by a health professional.
The report says Mpumalanga is notorious for corruption and there have been a number of political assassinations, particularly of municipal level officials attempting to expose corruption. Surveillance of, and threats to kill, a national leader, is unknown territory. Parliament has reported the death threat to the police. But it remains to be seen whether any action will be taken against MEC Mashego – either for overseeing a dysfunctional department or for his refusal to accept parliamentary oversight over his department.
Khoza is adamant that officials will be punished for poor service delivery. She is quoted as saying: “We are going to make sure that accounting officers are charged for poor performance”, adding that the top health officials needed to sign performance agreements and be subjected to independent evaluations.
The report says Khoza’s public exposure of the poor conditions in Mpumalanga is a refreshing intervention in a system where there is little accountability. Mpumalanga’s hospitals are notorious for their lack of health workers, no ambulances and the long waits for patients to get more specialised services, particularly orthopaedic services.
The province had the worst fatality rates for diarrhoea and pneumonia in the country for 2014/15, according to the Health System Trust’s District Health Barometer (DHB). It’s Gert Sibande district had the highest deaths of malnourished toddlers in health facilities in the country. These statistics are an indication of both poor access to care and poor treatment once in facilities.
Little has changed for patients over the years. Yet, the report says, there have never been any consequences for MECs or the top health officials because in a climate of factionalism, political loyalty has come to be more prized than efficient service delivery. Khoza’s approach shows that Parliament is slowly finding its backbone and that some MPs are no longer prepared to tolerate poor treatment. The report says this has to be good news for patients.The Times report Health-e News report