Why is the Newcastle Community Being Kept in the Dark?

Makhosazana Mdlalose, MPP

DA KZN Spokesperson on Health

DESPITE sweeping changes to the mandate of the Newcastle provincial hospital, both the local community and members of the KwaZulu-Natal health portfolio committee are being kept in the dark.

That either party should be the last to know about the developments is an indictment against KZN Health MEC, Sibongiseni Dhlomo and senior departmental officials. At the beginning of March, the MEC made a public announcement regarding the changes, which include moving away from being a general hospital towards becoming a mother and child care facility. The changes were announced during the MEC’s visit to Osizweni – some 35 kilometres from Newcastle – an area which the Newcastle hospital does not traditionally serve. Osizweni has its own medical facility, Madadeni hospital, to which Newcastle outpatients are now being referred. This raises further questions over Madadeni hospital’s ability to cope with such a major influx.

During his visit, the MEC confirmed that radical changes were in the pipeline. Yet, to date, he has failed to communicate these changes to the very people who are most affected – those who rely on this hospital for health care, those who work within its walls and those who represent the interests of KwaZulu-Natal citizens’ right to proper basic health care. At a KZN Health portfolio committee, held last week, I attempted to gain clarity on the changes and was fobbed off by department officials. Since then I have ascertained that there is chaos within the Newcastle hospital, with members of the public very unhappy about the changes. Outpatients are being sent away from the hospital and told to go to clinics for chronic medication. Meanwhile, clinics are completely overwhelmed by the influx of patients since they too have been caught unawares after the changes were not communicated to them.

Clearly there has been a lack of consultation over the changes and the MEC must explain the reasons for this oversight. Transparency and public consultation are an essential element of democracy and form the basic requirements of good governance. The DA calls on the MEC to enter into proper consultation with members of the public, the affected staff at this institution and the health portfolio committee as a matter of urgency.

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