/ 4 November 2008

DA calls for action on health budget crisis

The Democratic Alliance on Tuesday urged Health Minister Barbara Hogan to convene a meeting with provincial health ministers and the Treasury on the public healthcare budget crisis.

It was clear that public healthcare was facing a crisis and immediate action needed to be taken, DA spokesperson Mike Waters said.

This was evident from SA’s two most populous provinces, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, using budget restrictions to justify clamp-downs on employing doctors and nurses.

A reply to a DA parliamentary question also showed significant and life-threatening waiting lists in several provinces, he said.

”For patients whose conditions mean that time is critical — patients with cancer and kidney failure, for example — the time between initially being seen by a doctor and receiving the treatment required very often means the difference between a treatable condition and a deadly one.”

In Limpopo, among others, a patient with suspected colon cancer would wait five months for a colonoscopy, and then another four weeks for radiation treatment to begin.

In the Free State, a patient with breast cancer would wait six to eight weeks for surgery and another month for radiation treatment, while a patient with kidney failure and needing haemodialysis might wait a year to obtain a place.

In Gauteng, patients had to wait between six weeks and eighteen months for an operation, Waters said.

Gauteng health department spokesperson Zanlele Mngadi reportedly stated this week that posts in hospitals in the province could only be filled if lives or peace and order were threatened.

”Figures such as these, however, show that lives are already being threatened,” Waters said.

Provinces had given various reasons for the budget crunch they found themselves in, but in particular, it appeared that salary increases arising out of occupation-specific dispensations, as well as the expansion of the antiretroviral roll-out and other health programmes, had absorbed more of their budgets than had been anticipated.

”As a result of this, however, patients are dying,” Waters said. – Sapa