THE brave and bold stand taken by the Port Elizabeth doctors to highlight the catastrophic and chaotic state of health in the Nelson Mandela metro ought to be commended rather than being condemned ("Hospital staff crisis ‘ignored’ by EC officials”, June 26). The doctors decided to speak out against the shocking state of the health department by announcing that they are going to suspend all but emergency services, due to staff shortages.
The PE hospitals, known as the Port Elizabeth hospital complex, have been deteriorating at a neck-breaking speed in the last 15 years. The state of the hospitals is so bad that bereaved families are ashamed and embarrassed to announce at funerals that their loved ones died at Livingstone.
Most patients choose to die in their homes rather than to "risk” their lives and go to Livingstone, Dora or Provincial hospitals.
My own son was born at the Provincial Hospital 18 years ago. It was a pleasant experience and there was nothing to be ashamed about at the time.
When the doctors say they will only provide emergency services until the staffing crisis is resolved, I trust them. I have seen the doctors, nurses and other support staff working under the most difficult conditions in those hospitals.
I am aggrieved by the consequences of those staff shortages. When my sister died in those long queues, the nurse on duty told my other siblings that she was the sixth person in a month to pay with her life for the inadequacy in those hospitals.
Those of us who visit relatives and friends in the hospitals do notice the commitment and dedication of doctors, nurses and the rest of the support staff.
The outpouring of frustration by the doctors is understandable and long overdue. The outcry of the doctors is a mere overflowing of the cup of endurance on their part.
The reaction of the Eastern Cape health department to the decision by these highly respected specialist doctors who spoke out against the poor state affairs in the state hospitals is most disappointing. Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo demonstrated beyond doubt the disdain with which the civil servants treat ordinary citizens, with their "take it or leave it approach”, an approach that says "we know it all and yours is only to just fall in line” attitude is not acceptable.
He even had the audacity to call the doctors who made the public pronouncement "ringleaders”. The castigation of the doctors by Kupelo continued, with him saying the department would "not be held to ransom” and it would "not be bullied”.
He also vowed that the demands of the doctors would never be met. Kupelo also stated categorically that the doctors would be disciplined next week, if they failed to do what he called was what they were paid to do.
My reason for reacting to the harsh tone and content of Kupelo’s response to the decision of the doctors is because I suspect he spoke without double checking the public service these doctors provide to the community, particularly black people. When I heard Kupelo talk on the radio I thought he was referring to very junior doctors.
Little did I know that he was referring to people who included cardiologist Dr Basil Brown.
Brown has been a community doctor and a leader of progressive formations in Eastern Cape since 1974. He is a person who, after completing his medical studies at the University of Cape Town and his internship of two years at Somerset West, voluntarily elected to serve at Victoria Hospital in Alice as a medical officer.
This man is not a johnny-come-lately by any stretch of the imagination. He has elected to serve the public health service and was never enticed by the lucrative spoils available in South Africa’s private health sector.
In the 1980s Brown risked his career by boldly taking care of political prisoners who the police wanted to drag back to the prison hospital. He admitted the emergency detainees even when the police were extending their threats to his family.
He always stood his ground. Brown is certainly a principled person.
Dr Wendy Orr, a young doctor working for the state in 1985, spoke out publicly to the whole world when she witnessed the gross human rights violation of detainees and saved scores of them from the most brutal torture of the security police. She was castigated and forced to quit her job.
Warrant Officer Gregory Rockman spoke out against what he called police "behaving like wild dogs” toward detainees. He was also summarily hauled in front of a disciplinary process and dismissed from the force.
When people say history repeats itself, they refer to incidents such as these. These doctors, like many people before them, spoke out because they care.
More than any other thing, they also speak out because they love their country and people. In English that means they are patriots.
Mkhuseli Khusta Jack, Port Elizabeth