On Friday 27th February the GroundUp website published a letter from doctors in the Free State. The letter listed a number of specific and very serious allegations relating to the collapse of the Free State healthcare system. Based on our own experience in the Free State we find the allegations to be credible. The letter is both an indictment of the current management of the Free State healthcare system and a call for help from committed doctors. The letter can be read here.
On Saturday 28th February GroundUp published a response from the Free State Department of Health. That response can be read in full here. The evasive response from the department is disappointing given the seriousness of the issues raised by the whistle-blowers.
1. We are disappointed that the response from the Provincial Department of Health does not address any of the specific concerns raised in the whistle-blower letter (e.g. broken elevators and the 300 person long waiting list for spectacles at Dihlabeng hospital). While the response does state that the Department takes note of the specific issues and will look into them, it then goes on to suggest that the allegations are “gross exaggeration” and “deliberate orchestrations”. This is not the way to respond when doctors in your province call for help.
2. The Department alleges that: “Amongst other challenges the Department and the Free State has not been getting the right kinds of allocations as per the national formula of the Equitable share.” We will write to National Treasury to investigate these allegations. We do however note that the finances of the Free State Department of Health was in such a poor state last year that it had to be taken over by Treasury. We find it unlikely that insufficient allocations are the root cause of the collapse of the province’s healthcare system.
3. We find a number of the statistics quoted in the statement to lack credibility. For example the claim that “the Prevention of Mother to Child transmission of HIV improved from 1.8% in 2013/14 to 0.09% in the first quarter of 2014/15” or the claim that “All multi-drug resistant TB confirmed patients have been initiated on treatment”. In both these cases we are asked to believe that the Free State is doing dramatically better than other provinces. We request that the Free State government make the sources of these statistics available for public scrutiny.
4. We note the claim that the Department has employed 40 new doctors. We request that the Department share information regarding how and from where these doctors were recruited. We also request aggregate figures showing both how many new doctors were recruited over the last year and how many resigned or were dismissed.
5. We are disappointed that the Department blame amongst others the “legacy of the past” and the “general ineptitude of some professionals who are clearly not committed at times to sustaining non-racial provision of health services”. Excuses like these are red herrings and an insult to the many courageous healthcare workers who continue to serve in the public sector despite often very difficult working conditions.
As users of, and workers in, the public healthcare system we know that the Free State healthcare system has been mismanaged for many years. We know at first hand that under MEC Malakoane things are not getting any better. We know that fixing the Free State healthcare system is the responsibility of the current ANC led administration. We also know that the ANC Youth and Women’s Leagues have marched demanding the closure of TAC and that the provincial ANC took no steps to distance itself from this march. We are deeply concerned by the ANC’s failure to take responsibility for the collapse of the Free State healthcare system.
We stress that TAC is independent of all political parties. We do not campaign for or against any political parties. However, where a party acts contrary to the public interest we will point this out. Our obligation is to our members, not to political parties.
As TAC we have raised the problems in the Free State healthcare system with ANC national leadership at a meeting at Luthuli House on August 28th, 2014. After that meeting we were asked to send documentation on the Free State to the office of the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. We did so, but didn’t here from him again. On February 23rd, 2015 we again raised the issue in a meeting with the Minister of Health who made various positive undertakings in relation to the Free State. Various attempts to secure meetings with MEC Malakoane or Premier Ace Magashule have been unsuccessful.
1. We call on Premier Magashule to urgently convene a provincial consultative forum as provided for in the National Health Act.
2. We call on Premier Magashule to either dismiss or suspend MEC Malakoane – as he has the power to do. (Apart from his mismanagement of the healthcare system MEC Malakoane is also currently facing multiple charges of fraud and corruption.)
3. In their letter the whistle-blower doctors write: “What we report and allege here should be investigated and reported. In particular we appeal to the SA Human Rights Commission to take our allegations seriously because what we report is a violation of rights to health, dignity and equality.” As TAC we fully endorse this call on the SAHRC to launch an investigation.
4. We call on all progressive civil society organisations, unions, and other partner organisations to heed the call of patients and healthcare workers in the Free State. We also thank all organisations and individuals who have shown solidarity with the people in the Free State.
Our struggle continues!
For more information and to arrange interviews contact:
Lotti Rutter // firstname.lastname@example.org // 081 818 8493