Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has denied that the country’s ailing public health sector is in a state of “collapse”, conceding instead that the sector is “very distressed”.
This as the health department has come under scathing criticism, especially following the crisis in the North West province that saw hospitals shut down through violent strikes and patients turned away, as well as last week’s trashing of Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital during a labour-related strike and the KwaZulu-Natal oncology crisis
“It is very true and self-evident that the healthcare system is very distressed and going through hard times. But has the system collapsed?
"I’m here to challenge that because I do not know the yardstick which was used to arrive at that conclusion,” Motsoaledi told journalists at a a media briefing in Pretoria on Tuesday afternoon where he sought to outline the state of healthcare in the country.
He spoke on the department’s success in upscaling the tuberculosis and HIV programmes, stating that these programmes were among the biggest in the world.
However, he conceded to problems such as overcrowding and a chronic shortage of human resources, among others.
“Yes we accept and are worried about extreme overcrowding in our hospitals.
"I visited Tembisa hospital and found that in the neonatal ward, there are 40 beds yet there are 70 babies, most of which are delivered by foreign nationals,” he said.
He said the issue of foreign patients was a sensitive one, as they couldn’t as a department deny patients care, but it was also burdening local taxpayers.
He said one of the interventions they had taken as a department was to decant patients away from hospitals and clinics to pick up their chronic medication at select points.
“We also heard yesterday, a dramatic statement that our public health facilities have run out of medicines.
"We were very surprised because barring North West and its recent troubles, the concept of drug stock outs in our facilities has long been solved with new technology we launched in 2014,” he continued.
To address the issue of a lack of human resources in various provinces, Motsoaledi announced that 223 vacancies at the cost of R150 million would be filled this month in North West.
“Our other problem is Gauteng, which carries the burden of all former Transvaal provinces and even the whole Southern African Development Community.
"I’ve made it known to Gauteng that no matter how tough it is, we cannot afford not to fill vacant posts in health,” he added.
For the oncology crisis gripping KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the minister has allocated R100 million to deal with the backlogs.
“We are painfully aware of poor or lack of management skills in most of our hospitals.
"As from today, we are deploying 200 officials from head office to go to all our provinces to help with management.”