Gauteng Health in ICU
Urgent shake-up needed
GAUTENG Premier David Makhura has a major headache: what to do with the province’s troubled Health Department, which had a “chaotic” administration and needed a “big shake-up” urgently.
Makhura conceded yesterday that a lot wasn’t well in the department, still reeling from the deaths of more than 100 psychiatric patients moved from Life Esidimeni and the recent mortuary workers’ strike that lasted three weeks, plunging the province’s health-delivery system into chaos.
The recent collapse of a roof at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital is also among issues the department has had to grapple with.
Makhura blamed administrators for the poor running of the department. “The clinicians are doing well, but it is officials at provincial level who are failing the system.
“Those in charge of the institutions of health, whether it is provincial or regional or the hospitals, themselves need a big shake-up,” the premier said, speaking at the tabling of the provincial budget in the Gauteng legislature.
He said an urgent overhaul had to happen before 2019, when his term of office ends. “We are monitoring carefully the work being done to fix public health in our province. We will not rest until all the problems in our health system are addressed fully.”
The Esidimeni tragedy, as well as the mortuary strike and the Charlotte Maxeke roof collapse, were the latest in a string of problems that have hit the department.
Various hospitals and clinics have had to deal with issues such as delays in operations due to the shortage of anaesthetic drugs, broken equipment, inadequate staff, and misuse and misallocation of funds, all of which has led to a sharp deterioration in healthcare. Other problems include a shortage of key staff such as doctors, moonlighting and doctors using state facilities for private work, as well as theft of medicines and equipment.
The crisis-ridden department has over the years seen its key positions changing hands several times without any lasting solutions. Former Tshwane mayor and ex-deputy minister of health Dr Gwen Ramokgopa recently returned to the position as health MEC, taking over from Qedani Mahlangu, who resigned in the wake of the Esidimeni scandal. Ramokgopa was previously Gauteng’s health MEC, from 1999 to 2006.
In a bold admission that incompetence was at the heart of some of the problems, Makhura said the issue was not that the department didn’t have money.
“One part… relates to the administrative chaos in the Department of Health. It is something we are on top of,” he said.
The premier announced that all NGOs would be paid by tomorrow, but stressed that senior management in the department needed to “shape up”.
He said the provincial government and the Health Department were implementing the recommendations of Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba’s report into the Life Esidimeni deaths.
The report found that more than 100 patients died after the irregular removals from the Life Esidimeni facility to unregistered NGOs. Makgoba recommended that all the NGOs that looked after the patients be shut down and investigated by the police.
The patients were moved from the unregistered NGOs to different ones, but it emerged this week that 160 of them have not been paid for three months.
The premier said the problem was not only the department, but new NGO regulations that have been introduced, which had resulted in organisations struggling to adhere to them.
Makhura said the province was concerned about the Health Department’s performance, which was why he has established a special cabinet committee to assist Ramokgopa. “Non-payment impacts negatively on small businesses, but this administration has done well.”
But the DA’s Jack Bloom blamed the department and Makhura for destroying small businesses in the province by not paying service providers on time.
“Their payment average is 66 days, sometimes very much longer. Other big-budget departments also fail to pay on time. This shows widespread poor financial management that your office seems powerless to fix.”
Makhura said that in the next few weeks, he would, as instructed by the Health Ombud’s report, announce a retired judge and a committee to probe the Life Esidimeni matter.
FACING MAJOR CHALLENGES: Premier David Makhura admitted a lot was not well in Gauteng’s public healthcare system.