by Isak Fritz, MPL – DA Spokesperson of Health
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Date: 06 June 2018
Note to Editors: The following is an extract from a speech presented by Isak Fritz MPL at the annual Budget Vote Debate for the Northern Cape Department of Health at the Frances Baard District Municipality chambers in Kimberley today.
Hon. Speaker, it’s an honour for me to deliver my fourth debate on Budget Vote 10, Health. But it is also unfortunate that each time, it’s a new MEC doing a maiden speech. Change can be good if it’s for good reasons, but can be very dangerous and harmful if it’s for the wrong or political reasons, for it can bring instability in a department.
In the past four years, at least four different HOD’s and four different MEC’s have taken over the reins of this department. Each time, there is a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel but then the tunnel just gets longer and darker.
Hon. Speaker, the right to health is fundamental to the physical and mental wellbeing of all individuals and is a necessary condition for the exercise of other human rights.
The right to health care services is provided for in three sections of the South African Constitution. These provide for access to health care services; including reproductive health and emergency services, basic health to children; and medical services for detained persons, prisoners, and states that no one can be denied emergency medical treatment.
I fear that 2018/2019 comes with a poor prognosis for the poor, sick people of the Northern Cape.
Over the past couple of years, the quality of health care in many provincial facilities has regressed.
To a large extent, the problems in health have been aggravated by a serious state of instability within the provincial department.
Rising legal claims against the department, which now stand at R1,5 billion, call attention to the fact that this department is in distress. This department is failing to manage its budget, it is failing to manage its staff, it is failing to manage its contracts and it is failing to manage health care throughout the province.
But if this critical department is in distress, then what about its patients?
Let me give you some examples of the tragic reality facing the majority of people living in the Northern Cape:
For the young man involved in a serious car accident, the chances of an ambulance reaching him within the golden hour are increasingly unlikely. This is because the Emergency Medical Services is operating with 70 emergency vehicles, which translates into only 38% of the required fleet.
For the soon-to-be mother, who goes into early labour in Kuruman, the chances of her baby surviving are in jeopardy due to a lack of neonatal nurseries in the district hospitals.
For the grandfather from Pampierstad, who falls and breaks his hip, the chances of undergoing a timely hip replacement are slim due to theatre time at Kimberley Hospital having been reduced as a result of a dire shortage of theatre nurses.
For the old lady, who has a brain aneurysm, the chances of her living to tell the tale are minimal, due to her doctors first having to seek approval for her to undergo an MRI at a private facility, before she can be properly diagnosed and treated.
And for a middle-aged man with kidney failure, his chances of a second chance at life are trimmed down because of treatment backlogs due to a lack of state controlled renal-units across the province.
For them, health care has become health carelessness. For them, the Department of Health has become the Department of Hopelessness.
Sadly, the department’s budget for 2018/2019 does little to address their desperation.
Instead, we continue to see a bloated health administration at the expense of adequately staffed and resourced health facilities.
Hon. Speaker, the majority of our clinics and hospitals are detrimentally understaffed and staff are desperately overworked.
Hon. Speaker, in our portfolio committee meetings with the Department of Health, we often speak about health professionals who don’t want to come and work in the Northern Cape or, what can be done to attract them to the province. The truth is, Hon. Speaker, our HR process to appoint these health professionals can take between four and six months.
I am glad to hear that the MEC is addressing this matter.
Earlier this year, I highlighted the severe shortage of nurses in the Northern Cape and the plight of a nursing sister in Richmond, who singlehandedly ran the facility that sees between 100 and 150 patients visiting the clinic every day.
The Richmond situation is not an isolated case.
The province has a backlog of 1556 professional nurses.
Currently just two thirds of the Dr Harry Surtie Hospital in Upington is operational due to staffing constraints.
At the same time, the Orthopaedic and Opthalmology Centre, that took over the old Curomed facility, has not achieved its plans for growth, also largely due to staffing constraints.
The absence of a mammography machine, for breast cancer screening, at the Dr Harry Surtie Hospital, results in patients having to be transported to Kimberley Hospital every week to undergo mammograms.
The absence of a radiology oncology service at Kimberley Hospital, in turn sees the facility having to send between 30 and 40 patients to Bloemfontein every month for radiation. These patients have no choice but to wait their turn on a long list. Extended waiting periods however, often cause cancers to develop, in turn resulting in prolonged treatment and an even worse prognosis.
I note that there are finally plans afoot to improve oncology services in the province and that external funding has been received. It will, however, take at least R70 million and between two and three years, to get a radiation oncology service up and running at Kimberley Hospital.
Hon. Speaker, in the first two months of the 2018/2019 financial year, Kimberley Hospital would have spent 50% of its total budget allocation if all accruals and commitments were paid. On top of this, Kimberley Hospital’s allocation for goods and services has decreased by 14% compared with the adjustment budget last year.
As it is, there is no money and not enough resources to open the state of the art High Care unit at Kimberley Hospital. This unit, which cost millions and was completed almost four years ago, is gathering dust under lock and key, placing more pressure on the ICU unit.
The infrastructure grant has also been reduced, placing further pressure on Kimberley Hospital to maintain current levels of care under old, collapsing infrastructure.
Hon. Speaker, finally after 13 years, with a cost of nearly R2 billion, the mental health hospital, as promised by the Premier, will be opened by the end of June. I am just concerned about the new mental hospital because according to National Treasury, there are no funds available for the operationalization of this facility. Secondly, I am concerned that this state of the art mental health hospital will become another white elephant, like our Dr Harry Surtie Hospital in Upington and the De Aar Hospital.
As a result, mental health patients living in the Northern Cape will continue to receive sub-optimal care.
This said, I wonder if the department has met its commitment to the Mental Health Review Board, to move the female mental health patients, who were being kept in the mixed-gender ward at Kimberley Hospital, to West End by no later than yesterday?
Perhaps the MEC can respond on this in her reply?
Hon. Speaker, recruitment and retention of health professionals who are placed at facilities must take precedence.
The superficial abolishment of empty posts last year merely made the department’s vacancy rate look good on paper, but in reality, it contributed to the ongoing decline in state health care services. If the department really wants to make a difference, it should rather abolish empty posts on the bloated provincial establishment.
Hon. Speaker, it is high time that sick people become the number one priority of this department. Money must be invested in the doctors and nurses who care for the most vulnerable people of society and in improving the quality of state health care services.
But having said that Hon. Speaker, this will only happen under a DA-led government.
Until then the DA will not support this budget vote.