AFTER months of coaxing, the Eastern Cape Health Department has managed to retain the services of the doctor dubbed "Mr Fix It", who has promised to sort out Port Elizabeth's embattled Livingstone Hospital.
Newly appointed chief executive Dr Kobus Kotze said Livingstone would receive the same treatment and care he recently gave to the East London Hospital Complex, which he managed to improve in just a matter of months.
After months of deliberating, and a three-day stint in KwaZulu-Natal, Kotze finally agreed to take up the position in the Bay.
He had initially turned down the post to head up the beleaguered Addington Hospital in Durban.
But he changed his mind after just three days on the job, realising that his heart was in the Eastern Cape.
Known as "Mr Fix it" due to his success rate in turning around state hospitals, Kotze's appointment at Addington followed reports on a variety of problems at the hospital.
However, he said yesterday he felt his calling was in the Eastern Cape.
"I managed to fix certain aspects at the East London Hospital Complex in the short while I was there and now I plan to do the same in Port Elizabeth."
The East London Hospital Complex comprises Frere Hospital, Cecilia Makiwane Hospital and the East London Mental Health Unit.
Kotze was appointed acting chief executive officer in May last year after 29 babies died at Frere Hospital.
He has a medical and corporate background and, under his leadership, the complex's supply chain management underwent a major overhaul.
Eastern Cape Health Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said Kotze had managed to sort out numerous labour disputes during his tenure in East London.
Kotze said he enjoyed a challenge and looked forward to instilling hope in the Port Elizabeth hospital.
He said his biggest challenge at Livingstone would be the severe staff shortages and under-expenditure.
Once these issues were addressed, he would be able to formulate plans on how to get departments such as the acute surgical unit up and running again.
"I need to first settle in and then do proper inspections and draft a report. From there, I will address the issues, but it will take some time," he said.
The Herald reported in April on the closure of the country's first acute surgical unit, based at Livingstone, due to staff shortages.
Patients are instead referred to the hospital's desperately understaffed casualty department.
Other problems reported this year included the resignation of a quarter of the staff at the anaesthetics department, temporary closure of the rural outreach programme which focused on deterring maternal deaths, suspension of certain procedures at the burns and plastic surgery department, the inability to run the haematology department's newly commissioned wards due to a lack of staff, overworked staff at the emergency unit, and the mass resignation of paediatric staff.
"There is always a problem with human resources. But I will do analyses of these issues and deal with them one at a time," Kotze said.
A senior Livingstone Hospital surgeon, who did not want to be named, said while Kotze's appointment was a positive step, the problem still lay with head office.
He said all appointments needed to be done through the provincial office and unless Kotze "has the right connections", addressing the staff shortages was still going to be next to impossible.
"I have never worked with him, but I have heard many good things about him. Let's wait and see what happens," the doctor said.
Kupelo said: "The fact that we managed to retain Dr Kotze in the province says a lot about us, contrary to the view that our problems cannot be solved.
"He is a committed doctor and we have a lot of faith in his ability."