Free State Health Crisis results in desperate UFS intervention at Universitas Academic Hospital

Mariette Pittaway, MPL

Free State Provincial Legislature

The University of the Free State (UFS) had no choice but to intervene in the deteriorating situation at the Universitas Academic Hospital, specifically within the Cardiology Unit. The drastic intervention by the UFS was needed after failed attempts to approach MEC Malakoane and the Provincial Department of Health for their immediate intervention.

The cardiology unit has been dysfunctional for quite some time. Political interference, the lack of accountability, disenfranchisement by senior cardiologists and a total disregard by MEC Malakoane and Premier Ace Magashule for the extent of the crisis to which the Health department finds itself in, are directly to blame.

After the suspension of Dr Hennie Theron, the only Cardiologist at Universitas Hospital, in April this year, the chief executive officer of the Universitas Academic Hospital, Dr Sehularo Gaelesjwe contacted cardiologists in the private sector to assist. Four cardiologists reached an agreement with the hospital and started assisting in May 2014, but when no payments for services rendered were made to them, and only after numerous requests, the four cardiologists ceased their assistance at the end of July 2014.

As a result, the Cath Lab (Cardiology) closed down.  The Cardiology Department at one of the biggest training hospitals in the country was forced to close down. Cardiology students were being forced to transfer to other universities.  This also affected Clinical Technology students.

According to reports, the cardiology unit had to transfer seven heart patients to the Rosepark Private Hospital for treatment recently. One patient died after waiting for more than 12 hours to get approval to receive treatment at this private facility This is a death that could have been avoided if the Department of Health delivered on its mandate to deliver quality and equitable healthcare services to those in need.

Sadly, many more patients dependent on public health across the province are exposed to this rot within the public health system threatening their lives and livelihoods.

CEO Dr Sehularo Gaelesjwe, allegedly placed himself on leave to avoid a suspension order issued against him. Under his watch the services at the hospital have deteriorated and resignations of much needed medical personnel and specialists have been at the order of the day. As a result, the UFS appointed Dr Balekile Mzangwa as the operational head of the facility and is working closely with the acting chief executive officer, Mr Kwame Kwakwa to address the situation.

The DA has repeatedly called on the provincial government to table its turnaround strategy for the department before the legislature. We have also written to the National Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi to place the department under a section 100 administration. We have not received any concrete reassurances that the ANC-led government is serious about the health of the people of the Free State and that they would intervene and rectify the situation.

How much longer will Premier Ace Magashule allow the negligence of MEC Malakoane to infest the public health system?

The DA commends the intervention by the UFS. The UFS is effectively intervening within the crisis at Universitas in a manner that is expected of government.

However, the responsibility to ensure the optimal functioning of public health in the province lies at the desk of MEC Malakoane and Premier Ace Magashule, both of whom continues to undermine the legislature and neglect their constitutional responsibilities towards the people of the Free State.