KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health given ultimatum for fixing health crisis

The KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Health has been instructed to get its house in order and sort out the ongoing crisis within the provincial healthcare system that is putting patients’ lives in danger.

Following an oversight visit by Parliament’s Select Committee on Social Services to Addington Hospital and the Cato Manor Community Health Centre, the provincial department of health was ordered to provide a detailed report with clear timelines on when they intend resolving the chronic staff shortages, slow supply chain management turn-around time, poor infrastructure, lack of equipment, low skills base and underfunding plaguing the province.

Inadequate staffing

“The committee was horrified to learn about the high mortality rate at Addington Hospital’s maternity unit because of a lack of staff. While we acknowledge that the ward at Addington deals with primarily high-risk pregnancies, it is unacceptable that the quality of services has been compromised due to inadequate staffing,” said Cathy Dlamini, chairperson of the committee.

It is also unacceptable that medical professionals are subjected to inadequate working conditions in hospitals impacting on their ability to deliver quality services. “The lack of proper equipment has led to an exodus of critical skills from the public healthcare service. The doctors remaining are then faced with daunting workload which impact on their morale. This must be remedied with speed,” she emphasised

While the committee acknowledges that the increasing pressure caused by the decreasing funding base within the healthcare system and an ever-increasing population, it reiterates its posture that positions within the healthcare sector must be prioritised and filled with the outmost urgency at all times, a parliamentary statement said.

During the visit the department said it is working on critical minimum posts that will be urgently filled. This process is to ensure that hospitals have the requisite skills at the minimum numbers to render services. It also plans to delegate the authority to appoint critical staff to the hospital which will assist in shortening the recruitment process.

Oncology crisis

The two radiography machines at Addington Hospital are broken, and, in June this year, the last public sector oncologist resigned from her position, leaving thousands of cancer patients without treatment options.

The committee was informed that there are three oncology centres and a satellite site (North Coast) in the province that provide both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These are Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital (IALCH), Grey’s Hospital and Addington Hospital as well as a new site that has been established in the North Coast where chemotherapy provided by the state is administered by private oncologists from Joint Medical Holdings (JMH). to alleviate the backlog of cancer patients.

However, the DA’s provincial health spokesperson, Dr Imran Keeka, points out a completely different reality.

In a report in the Sunday Tribune he said that oncologists are never on site, with cancer patients either seen by part-time volunteers twice weekly, or by unsupervised trainee oncologists who receive instructions via their cellphones.

“It is difficult to comprehend how oncology services at this hospital (Addington) could possibly get any worse. Yet, during this week’s national health portfolio committee meeting, the KZN MEC for health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo painted a very different picture, telling members that oncologists were seeing cancer patients daily,” he said.

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