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THE Eastern Cape health department resolved to open up lines of communication between its officials and employees during a Dispatch Dialogue this week that saw health staff airing more grievances than solutions.
Speaking at the Daily DispatchFort Hare Dialogues in partnership with Sowetan and Brand South Africa, provincial health superintendent-general Dr Thobile Mbengashe said he was open to meeting with anyone wanting to improve the provincial public health sector.
“I take the challenge of forming a forum so that patients can see that we are working together.
“When two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers. In a democracy we should be able to engage,” he said. “The Eastern Cape has over 1 000 public health facilities serving everyone … and over 48 000 people providing services to the people of the Eastern Cape on a daily basis.”
He added that discussion topics could include where these facilities were located and what skills personnel had.
The theme of the dialogue was EC Health Crisis – Can it Be Fixed and the panel was made up of unionists and members of the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Coalition, which includes health professionals, activists, religious groups and members of the public.
Panelists echoed the same issues within the department: shortage of staff, non-payment of staff, dilapidated infrastructure, poor human resources management, shortage of drugs and equipment, staff fatigue, incorrect pay notches, shortfalls of leadership and management, facilities going without water, issues with retaining health professionals, and inadequate incentives.
In all presentations, they begged the department to lend an ear and hear them out on issues as they may also suggest solutions.
Denosa, a union representing about 13 000 nurses in the province, expressed disappointment that health MEC Sicelo Gqobana was not present at the dialogue.
Vuyokazi Matiso, who represented the coalition, said numerous requests for meetings with the department had been cancelled or postponed. “We are not sure if the department is willing to work with us. We want to allow the department its due discretion in coming up with solutions for the provincial health sector, but so far the plan they have given us is a skeleton and very vague,” she said.
Mbengashe disputed the coalition’s sentiments and directed them to the department’s annual plan. “We can’t deny that there are problems, but it’s not fair to say nothing is happening at all,” he said.
The dialogue was criticised by those in attendance as an employee versus employer fight, where no new issues were raised and the patient seemed far removed from discussions about issues in the public healthcare sector.
An employee from Frere Hospital, who was in the audience, said it was still about the patient.
That is why, she said, healthcare professionals went the extra mile in facilities where there were shortages.
However, Wednesday night was about the employee and the employer, and that was because they found themselves working for an employer who does not care.
“If you are not going to have happy employees, you will not have happy patients,” she said.
But Cecilia Makiwane Hospital CEO Dr Mthandeki Xhamlashe warned against being alarmist, saying there was no crisis and South Africans needed to know what a crisis was.
He said what was being witnessed was simply a “very bad situation”. —