Bheki Mashile's Letter from Umjindi

Anatomy of healthcare. Condition critical


As concerned citizens, there are times when we are faced with issues that are hard to comprehend and we find ourselves asking: Why is this happening? and Why is no one doing anything about it?

These are questions I’ve been asking myself since my last column appeared (in nose190) about the shambles of our health system, following which I noticed a plethora of articles in other publications highlighting similar problems in hospitals around the country. Yes, around the whole country.

One, in a Sunday broadsheet, was headlined “Free State’s hospitals of death exposed”. Like my write-up on Barberton General Hospital, it referred to an alleged misdiagnosis, but this one had led to the death of a patient at the Botshabelo District Hospital in the Free State. There was another story about human blood leaking from a hospital mortuary in Bloemfontein. Whoever heard of such a thing!

Now the question that needs asking is: does South Africa have a Minister of Health? Where is Aaron Motsoaledi? Is he simply not doing his job or is he not capable of doing it?

One doctor, Russel Kirkby, wrote in a Sunday publication: “Top politicians and government officials …must receive their care through public healthcare facilities. This should be a condition of employment.”

Sorry Kirkby, while many a citizen would agree, this will never happen. After all, why should they risk being misdiagnosed? That is for nobodies like us.

In my previous column I quoted a doctor who said the many misdiagnoses can be attributed to the lack of supervision of trainee doctors. Well it’s not that simple. So, to the trainees, my apologies for appearing to cast all the blame on you. After further investigation I deduced that it can be attributed to the shortage of experienced doctors serving our public health system.

 Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi

A doctor friend of mine who cannot be named as he still serves in public hospitals, said the shortage has forced trainees to treat patients without supervision because the few experienced doctors there are must also tend to patients.

This doctor also laid the blame on the Health Professions Council of South Africa, which is supposed to ensure that our public hospitals provide trainees with supervision. Several attempts to get comment from the council before going to press failed.

Back to the doctor shortage. What happened to the Cubans? There was so much fanfare a few years ago about how these brothers-in-arms were going to be the answer to our need for more doctors.Well, it appears that many of our trusted Cubans simply used South Africa as a stepping stone to move on to greener pastures. Talk about putting a new spin on defections!

According to one administrator (who also cannot be named for obvious reasons) at one of Mpumalanga’s hospitals, many of the Cubans simply secured South African citizenship and hit the highway, or better said, the skies. They are said to have taken advantage of the demand for South African doctors and reportedly went to places like Australia, New Zealand, Canada – and of course  – the UK.   

Unfortunately, such claims are hard to prove without a thorough investigation. However, a few years ago I met one or two Cuban doctors at Barberton General. Now they are nowhere to be seen – unless of course they’d been taking a siesta when I went looking for them. Maybe they were taking the siesta with our Minister of Health.

And speaking of the MIA Cubans, what has happened to the much-vaunted National Health Insurance (NHI) plan? Wasn’t this supposed to be another saving grace of our beleaguered public health system.

Yes, the so-called Phase One of this plan was said to focus on infrastructure development and renovations. And indeed, if truth be said, if Barberton General and the Provincial Hospital at Nelspruit, Rob Ferreira, are anything to go by, millions of rands have been pumped into this first phase.

That is all good and well, and yes, we have beautiful buildings, but the service to patients has not changed.

It would seem to me – or any logical person – that Phase One should have focused on improving patient care, but when you have a society where there is serious moola to made through construction tenders, why bother with paying doctors more money.

Health minister Motsoaledi should be ashamed of himself. This gentleman seems to be failing dismally at his job.

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