Gauteng health promised 'major shake-up'

Gauteng provincial health minister Ntombi Mekgwe has promised a “major shake-up” in the way the provincial health department does business.

“We are going to put in place new systems and processes to ensure that there is discipline and integrity in the manner we do business,” she said.

Media reports over the past few years have highlighted medicine stockouts, equipment failures, staff shortages and financial mismanagement at the province’s ailing hospitals.

Late last year, after unpaid suppliers threatened to cut off services to the department, the Gauteng provincial government called on national government for help in addressing its financial and supply chain management problems.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Mekgwe promised the department was pursuing a comprehensive turnaround strategy with the help of auditing firm KPMG.

The department is to hold a strategy session with managers of all hospitals in the province in the beginning of March to discuss the turnaround, which will focus on addressing staffing, equipment, bed numbers, working environments, drug supplies and patient satisfaction.

“Things will not be the same,” she said.

“We have begun the process of stabilising the department.”

Outstanding debt
According to Mekgwe, since March last year the health department had paid R9.3-billion to service providers. It aims to pay off all of its outstanding debt by June this year.

Last week Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane announced that the province was splitting of the department of health and social development to ensure that both portfolios get the attention they need.

Jabulani Sikhakhane, a spokesperson for national treasury, told the Mail & Guardian that with the support of national government, a programme to clear the provincial health department’s accruals is underway.

“The Gauteng government as a whole has sufficient cash to clear the accruals,” he said.

According to Sikhakhane, the province’s R3-billion in accruals should be cleared by the third quarter of this year.

“The national treasury is working closely with the provincial treasury to strengthen the finance section of the gauteng department of health,” said he.

Overhaul underway
Mekgwe’s comments today indicate a new impetus from the Gauteng provincial government to address the gaping holes in its health systems.

The health department is in the process of disciplining nine doctors who claimed excessive overtime from the department.

A review analysis showed that some doctors claimed 290 hours of overtime for weekdays and weekends; this is the equivalent of claiming for 20 consecutive days of overtime.

It is also pursuing an electronic gatekeeping system, which should help reduce the number of unnecessary tests ordered from the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS).

Earlier this month, the NHLS cut off its services to the health department because it owed almost R700-million. NHLS reinstated its services after receiving a payment R150-million.

Mekgwe said that since the start of the pilot at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital last year, the province had saved R40 000 permonth in unnecessary tests.

Meanwhile, the province’s department of infrastructure development (DID) has begun a renewal programme aimed at increasing the functionality of equipment at the provinces hospitals.

Provincial Infrastructure minister Bheki Nkosi said the province was gearing up to revamp its health infrastructure.

“What we have is aging infrastructure that has not been maintained properly [and] which has not been renewed for 30 years,” he said.

Two new hospitals are to be completed over the course of the year and five provincial hospitals will benefit from infrastructure revitalisation projects in the new financial year.

Promises met with skepticism
But Jack Bloom, the DA’s Gauteng health spokesperson, said he was skeptical of the health department’s promises and its ability to pay off its accruals by the end of June.

“This department has had numerous turnaround plans. This time they must get it right. They must put the right people in charge if they want to get it right,” he said.

He also questioned Mekgwe’s ability to lead the turnaround. “This is the person who presided over the decline [of the health department]. Is she the right person to oversee the turnaround?” he asked.

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live. Read more from Faranaaz Parker

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