Three wards at Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein, representing some of the health priorities of the Free State Health department, are running on a single professional nurse per shift. The paediatric, maternity and casualty wards are the hardest hit in the hospital’s staff crisis. Acting CEO of the hospital Mpotsang Nzume said the hospital needs more than R100 million to address the staff shortage, a backlog in maintenance and a shortage of medical equipment and medication. These were some of the problems highlighted by the Public Service Commission after an inspection of the hospital. Commissioner Henk Boshoff said the inspection involved amongst other things interviews with medical staff at the hospital. The commission’s findings confirmed problems set out in a report by a group of anonymous medical staff members that made headlines this past week.
The findings by the commission come amid constant denials by the Free State provincial government that the provincial health department’s budget shortage of approximately R800 million has a negative impact on the delivery of health services in the province. DA MPL in the Free State Legislature, Marriette Pittaway, said medical personnel in provincial hospitals and clinics work under dire circumstances. She said their safety ethical codes of conduct are constantly at risk as they are regularly facing medicine and equipment shortages.
The impact of the financial woes of the department is also expected to be exposed in a report by the department of labour, to be made public soon. The report follows after the department conducted inspections at several clinics in the Motheo district. The report is expected to detail some of the challenges in providing primary health care in the province.
Free State Premier Ace Magashule announced in his State of the Province Address that 40 medical doctors, 5 obstetricians, 10 paediatricians, 10 gynaecologists, 5 dentists, family physicians and 100 nurses from Cuba will soon arrive in the province. He said the medical staff is, however, heading for small towns in the municipalities of Phumelela, Ngwathe, Maluti-a-Phofung, Tokologo, Nala, Naledi, Mafube, Moqhaka, Nketoana and Masilonyana.
Freedom Front Plus MPL Wouter Wessels said these inspections are being conducted too late.
"The big problem with the ANC government is that its first reaction is to deny – so, it denied the health crisis. Their second reaction is to shift blame for crisis – that was done, and its third reaction is to realise there is indeed a problem," said Wessels. He said after the idea sinks in, the government started conducting investigations, but now it is unnecessary and too late – the problem is too far gone. Wessels said the last and final stage is usually to re-deploy the MEC and his HOD.
"It’s been a while since Magashule reshuffled his provincial cabinet and usually finding a new broom is seen as addressing the problem," he said. Wessels said with the local government elections around the corner a reshuffling is a possibility.
Meanwhile Boshoff said an inspection at the Universitas Tertiary Hospital during the 2015/2016 financial year – that kicks off next month – is not excluded. This hospital made headlines when a big group of specialists resigned at the hospital.