THE Eastern Cape Health Department will not take disciplinary action against the three doctors who spoke out about dire personnel shortages at the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex.
Department spokesman Siyanda Manana said nothing had happened to the doctors. "We know they spoke out on behalf of the heads of Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex’s departments.
"We listened to their reasoning and have decided instead to focus on ways to solve the operational challenges in the [complex],” Manana said.
The hospital complex consists of the Livingstone, Dora Nginza and Provincial hospitals.
The doctors – cardiologist Dr Basil Brown, surgeon Dr Sats Pillay and paediatric surgeon Dr Lungile Pepeta – spoke up last month on behalf of their colleagues and other heads of department in the complex, mostly detailing the dire staff shortages.
They also said doctors had decided to suspend all but emergency surgical procedures as a result of the personnel problem.
The complex has lost 28 doctors since the beginning of the year. None has been replaced.
Manana said yesterday the Health Department had asked the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex’s acting chief executive officer, Dr Ntombi Qangule, to resuscitate the hospital committee, a body on which doctors and other medical personnel serve, to ensure operational problems at the complex were sorted out.
Earlier in the week, department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the department had received a report from auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers implicating 30 specialist doctors from Mthatha in running private practices while employed by the state.
The Budget and Expenditure Monitoring Forum’s Daygan Eager said yesterday the issue of the doctors moonlighting was a longstanding problem that needed to be resolved.
"But it is by no stretch of the imagination the cause, or even a significant contributing factor, in the [Eastern Cape Health Department] crisis,” he said.
Meanwhile, the public interest law centre that recently won significant legal battles against the education minister over the lack of handbooks in Limpopo schools said it was carefully monitoring the rapid service decline in Eastern Cape state hospitals.
Section 27 said it and its partners, the Rural Health Advocacy Project, Treatment Action Campaign, Africa Health Placements, Rural Rehabilitation South Africa, Rural Doctors’ Association and South African Medical Association, had received many reports from health care professionals and activists concerned about the state of public health care in the province.
Complaints included non-payment of staff, a shortage of medicines and "widespread systemic failures in the management and financing of services”.
Eager said Section 27 obtained documents on the department’s financial situation that detailed that it had a shortfall of between R2.5-billion and R3-billion and as a result had only R12-billion to meet service delivery commitments in this financial year.
He said the Eastern Cape Health Department had used R1.19-billion in under-funded and unfunded programmes, that was mostly spent on employee compensation, including salary increases that were above budget.
Section 27 also discovered that the department was paying back, with interest, an overdraft it had never received from Treasury.