It’s been more than 100 days since Bandile Masuku ascended to his position as Gauteng Health MEC, inheriting a health department marred by countless challenges even though it receives the largest chunk of the province’s budget.
The department is hamstrung by staff shortages, inadequate service delivery, poor infrastructure, shortage of equipment, and medical negligence litigation expenditure that amounts to almost “half a billion”. However, Masuku says these challenges are not insurmountable.
“The challenges are well known, and they are not insurmountable. The system still has enormous challenges, opportunities and pockets of excellence,” he said.
Masuku was speaking during a media briefing held at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto on Tuesday 10 September.
Of the various challenges facing Gauteng hospitals, staff shortages in critical posts have been repeatedly flagged as urgent even by the opposition party.
Masuku said the department has allocated resources to fill critical posts, further estimating that a total of 1,974 posts will be occupied by the end of 2019.
Just a week ago, Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism reported that almost half of the province’s hospitals are without their top managers, including CEOs.
According to Masuku, the department has since “completed shortlisting for 14 hospitals CEOs and most of them will begin work on 1 October 2019”.
Shadow Health MEC Jack Bloom says the department has made progress in filling critical posts but has not reached the goal.
“I think he has made progress there, but he hasn’t met the goal. It’s still a shocking thing that family hospitals have so many staff shortages. But I think he walked into a very difficult situation, he’s been very willing to respond and be open, a refreshing contrast from his predecessors”.
Additionally, Bloom raised his suspicions that Masuku might not have the budget to fill all the job posts.
“I suspect he actually doesn’t have the budget for it. Everything must be done in terms of available resources. And the critical posts were the big smudge. But it is a fairly large budget, it is just badly spent,” he said.
During his budget vote, Masuku said the department will allocate R1-billion for the refurbishment and maintenance of health facilities in the province. And, on Tuesday, he alluded to the promises he made then and said by the end of the 2019/20 financial year, “all hospitals should be OHS compliant”.
Other challenges facing the department are medical litigations against hospitals due to negligence. A statement issued by DA’s Gauteng Health spokesperson, Makashule Gana, estimates that the department spent R104-million on outsourcing legal services for medical litigation in the first quarter of the 2018/19 financial year, despite having an in-house legal division – a number which is said to skyrocket to half a billion rand for the whole financial year. In response to claims that the department spends a large amount of money on medical litigation, Masuku said:
“We agree that the money we spend on legal fees and legal firms is quite a lot. And it’s money that we could use to improve the system itself. We are already in the process of putting into place proposals that the justice system will have to consider in helping to reduce the costs”.
Masuku further highlighted that there were problems with the legal division in the past – an issue that aggravated their spending cost because cases were not given urgency.
“We have automated the system on how we are going to handle cases and that will help us to be able to respond on time,” he said.
Last, the MEC announced a new mobile app that will be used to lodge complaints, as part of automating the system. Patients can also use the application to locate health care facilities nearest to them, a move that the opposition commended. DM
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