Health dept. must not overextend itself

By Harold McGluwa MPL DA Northern Cape Provincial Chairperson:

The DA is concerned that the Northern Cape Department of Health is overextending itself with the planned relocation of Kimberley Hospital’s orthopaedic and ophthalmology units to the old Curomed Hospital facility this coming weekend.

Not only will the move add fiscal pressures to the financially burdened department but it will also place strain on the department’s limited resources.

A reply to a parliamentary question states that the initial outlay to restructure and equip the old Curomed hospital was over R14 million. This does not include the day to day running costs of the facility. Given that the department has amassed an excessive amount of accruals, and spent the first three months of its new budget just settling last year’s debts, additional operating expenses are worrying.

The reply further indicates that the relocation will see the hospital increasing its theatres from a total of four to six. However, aside from the appointment of additional cleaners and clerks, the department has only recruited one additional doctor to administer anesthetics. No additional nurses have been recruited to operationalise the theatre and instead the department intends utilizing agency nurses to supplement its inadequate nursing force.  This too is worrying, as the department currently does not have enough doctors, and especially nurses, to run the existing theatres at full capacity. Additional theatres will therefore mean even more overtime for overworked staff.

The DA believes that a caring government must ensure that accessible, affordable, high quality health care is available to every South African. An expansion of healthcare services, particularly increased theatre time, is therefore welcome in the sense that it will address mounting surgery backlogs in the province.

At the same time, however, the challenged health department must guard against biting off more than it can chew.

The DA proposes that, first and foremost, the health department gets its finances in order. Then it must address the shortage of professional nurses, doctors and medical specialists in the province. And only then should it look towards extending its service base.