Sunday, 21 July, 2024
HomeFrom the FrontlinesLoss of 4,000 COVID posts a body blow to already stretched Gauteng...

Loss of 4,000 COVID posts a body blow to already stretched Gauteng hospitals

Gauteng Health’s decision to not renew numerous contracts of about 4,000 staff appointed temporarily to help hospitals through the COVID-19 pandemic has been met with criticism by the DA, medical staff and the health workers’ union, reports MedicalBrief.

Gauteng Health received a R2.2bn COVID grant last year to appoint the staff on temporary one-year contracts. These contracts were extended to 31 March this year, but 50% of them will not be extended further, says the department.

Shadow minister of health for the DA Jack Bloom said the loss of posts was devastating because hospitals are chronically under-staffed even without the burden of COVID cases.

In the case of Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital (CHBH) in Soweto, more than 400 posts will be lost, putting even more stress on those who remain, said Bloom.

“This also highlights the inexplicable policy of hiring Cuban doctors when local doctors are unemployed. I estimate that more than R2bn of COVID grant money was wasted because of corruption, misplaced priorities and incompetency,” he said.

Last Thursday (10 March) doctors and other health workers picketed outside Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, demanding that the more than 800 posts created there during the  pandemic be retained.
 But Gauteng Health says without enough money to keep all of the posts, 819 of them will be scrapped from 31 March.

The hospital is also battling a crisis of supplies, with suppliers of bread and milk refusing to deliver because they have not been paid. One bread supplier told GroundUp he was owed R1.5m by the department and had not been paid for four months.

“This is a health crisis of another dimension,” said Professor Mmampapatla Ramokgopa, head of orthopaedic surgery.

The group of about 50 protesters was joined by about 100 members of the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW), all picketing against the scrapping of their contracts. They were employed at Bara and other hospitals as part of the Extended Public Works Programme.

In a statement released last Wednesday, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Medical Advisory Committee (MAC) said ending the posts would add strain to an already under-staffed hospital. They said the increase in patients due to COVID had been compounded by additional patients from Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, after a fire that broke out there last year. The posts include health and administrative staff.

“These posts have helped us survive, and cutting them will impact health services,” said Professor Martin Smith, clinical head of surgery at Chris Hani Baragwanath. The hospital is the largest in the southern hemisphere, the fourth largest in the world, receiving patients from across the country and beyond SA’s borders.

“Something desperately needs to be done to save healthcare in the province,” said Smith, adding that hospitals functioned because of “the efforts of dedicated health professionals” but more must be done by the government to address the “crises”.

Also shocked by the potential job losses is the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union [NEHAWU] in Gauteng, which said the decision not to renew the medical contracts was “astonishing”.

In a statement, the union said the temporary staff had provided much relief to the overburdened national health system.

“These workers have played an instrumental role in providing medical assistance during the pandemic, providing relief on an already strained healthcare system, which was on the verge of collapse at the height of the pandemic due to a plethora of issues, including a staff shortage.”

Mzikayise Tshontshi, provincial secretary of NEHAWU Gauteng, said it was “a drastic decision”.

“These staff have brought relief to an overburdened system … Their absence will be felt largely by communities. Equally, the decision will reverse the strides made in the fight against COVID-19 and the improvement of public healthcare in the province.”

That this decision was made “against the background of skyrocketing unemployment rate in the country, which stands at 34.9%” was “even more shocking”.

“NEHAWU calls on the provincial administration to urgently intervene to avoid a situation where health institutions are left with no personnel, and to permanently employ those workers.”

Bloom said the Health Department's misplaced priorities and ineptitude included R700m spent on the empty Anglo Ashanti Hospital in the Far West Rand, R500m on empty wards at CHBH, R200m on uncompleted wards at Kopanong Hospital, "as well as wasteful spending on the NASREC field hospital, and the PPE corruption”.


GroundUp article – Doctors picket outside crisis-ridden hospital (Republished under Creative Commons Licence)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Failed bid to have 47,000 community health workers made permanent employees


Health MEC threatens legal action over DA's field hospital claims


Gauteng Health too broke to fight third wave


Backlog of 7,000 surgery patients at Chris Hani Baragwanath


Baragwanath's long queues and rude staff head list of patients' complaints


Bara says it cannot provide vital ICU or HCU treatment


More than a quarter of Bara staff absent on any given day



MedicalBrief — our free weekly e-newsletter

We'd appreciate as much information as possible, however only an email address is required.