System is in good health, insists MEC Malakoane

Free State Health MEC Benny Malakoane has accused the Mail & Guardian of “sensationalist reporting” and publishing “inaccurate and unsubstantiated stories” about Dihlabeng Regional Hospital in Bethlehem, as well as the Free State public health system in general, in an effort to undermine his leadership.

Malakoane made the allegations in his budget vote speech, which he delivered in Bloemfontein on Tuesday.

Malakoane said: “In all articles of a particular newspaper, starting from June 2014 to March 20 2015, one would struggle to find anything positive about the health service delivery in the Free State under my leadership. I challenge people to draw their own conclusions.”

Malakoane’s spokesperson, Mondli Mvambi, confirmed that the newspaper Malakoane was referring to is the Mail & Guardian.

“A few weeks before my budget speech of 2014, the media went into a frenzy with inaccurate and unsubstantiated stories regarding Dihlabeng Regional Hospital. Is it a coincidence that in the past few days the same thing has happened?” Malakoane asked.

Case of medical negligence
On March 20, the Mail & Guardian published a story about Maritsa Balanco who is in the process of filing a case of medical negligence against the Free State health department. She believes her husband, Frik’s death at Dihlabeng in January, can be ascribed to the “lack of staff and medication” and “horrific conditions” at the hospital.

Doctors at Dihlabeng, told the M&G that the hospital currently has only a quarter of the doctors it requires to run a 24-hour service and regularly runs out of medication such as anti-resistant antibiotics and the intravenous medication that Frik needed.

However, Malakoane argued the Free State health department did not experience serious problems with drug stock-outs. In his budget vote speech he announced that medicine availability in the province is between 78% and 95%.

According to Malakoane it has become “fashionable for some professions to gravitate towards health in search of their sectarian wealth creation through the costs of litigation”. “It is for this reason that we are part of an initiative … to bring drastic measures to tackle this issue and we are commencing with such measures with immediate effect in our hospitals and clinics and transgressors will be held accountable”.

Financial struggles
The MEC, however, admitted that Free State hospitals, including Dihlabeng, are experiencing severe budgetary constraints due to accruals making it a challenge to appoint enough staff and pay suppliers. He said at the beginning of the 2014/15 financial year Dihlabeng had accruals of 83%.

According to Mvambi, this “in effect means that Dihlabeng started the financial year with only 17% of its budget available, as 83% of it had to be used to pay expenses of the previous financial year”.

In 2014 the Free State health department was placed under the administration of the Provincial Treasury after the department racked up a debt of R700-million.

According to Mvambi, part of the reason for the province’s financial struggles is that the Free State doesn’t get the “fair equitable share [in financing]” that it deserves. The local government equitable share is an unconditional transfer of nationally raised revenue to municipalities to enable them to provide basic services to poor households. “We are challenging the formula of equitable share, which does not account for spatial features of provinces,” he said.

Free State health system ‘not crumbling’
Malakoane warned that due to a decrease of R148.685-million in the Free State’s equitable share for the 2015/16 financial year, the provincial health department will not be able to deliver on “all the activities as they appear in the annual performance plan”.

But the MEC said the Free State health system was not crumbling as the M&G‘s articles imply. “I can stand in front of this august house today and unequivocally declare that there is no implosion and the health system is not collapsing,” Malakoane said.

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Mia Malan
Mia Malan
Mia Malan is the founding director and editor of the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism at the Mail & Guardian. She heads up a team of fifteen permanent and freelance staff members. She loves drama, good wine and strong coffee, not necessarily in that order.
Bhekisisa team
Bhekisisa Team
Health features and news from across Africa by Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre.

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