The Gauteng Health Department has acknowledged that it has serious staff shortfalls. Addressing the issue of Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, the provincial Health MEC admitted that there are insufficient trained theatre nurses working in the maternity ward of the facility.
Following a report about new born babies dying at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHB) due to negligence of hospital staff, Bara management have come out and admitted that there is a crisis. Gauteng Health MEC, Ntombi Mekgwe, says there is a critical shortage of trained theatre nurses working at the hospital.
"Yes, we agree that we generally have a shortage of nurses. At the moment, there are 20 trained specialists in theatre nursing, with the additional five from the minister", Mekgwe says.
"In terms of the shift system in theatre, we have four shifts and all of them have five people per shift and if you run a normal theatre, we need six. This means in every shift we are short of one nurse", she adds, painting a picture of the staff shortage.
The national Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi recently intervened and sent five theatre staff from the military health service to alleviate the nursing shortage at Chris Hani Bara's maternity section. Deputy CEO of the hospital, Dr Pungie Lingham, says despite the staff shortage, the number of still-births at the hospital has remained constant over the last three years.
"The percentages of still births in 2009 against total deaths are three percent, then it went to 2.7 % and in 2011 it was 2.8 %. If you compare 2011 third quarter to 2009 third quarter, we actually have less number of still births in this quarter of 2011 compared to 2009. Even though there have been difficulties in highly trained specialised nurses, the impact on the number of still births has not been significantly affected. If anything, it's less", explains Dr Lingham.
Meanwhile, services have been severely disrupted in many Gauteng hospitals as suppliers of services and medical products stopped their supplies due to the inability of the provincial health department to pay for services rendered.
At an urgent meeting held this week between senior clinicians and officials of the National Health Department, a consensus was reached that services would be restored. Concerned doctors say the absence of key tools and equipment hinders them from providing a quality service to the public.
The National Health Laboratory Service, NHLS, is owed over R2billion and the facility has resorted to closing down some of their sites in Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu Natal. Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Nonkosi Khumalo, says the closure of the health labs has put the lives of HIV-positive patients at risk.
"People have been calling our offices and we have been to some of the sites that have challenges, like Kaalfontein clinic in Tembisa, Eastbank clinic in Alexandra and ART clinic in Edenvale. These are clinics that started saying to us: 'We are just not coping because we can't do monitory laboratory tests, we can't initiate people on treatment unless we know what their CD4 counts are, we can't screen for TB because we won't get the results", says Khumalo.
She says they are ready to take the Health Department to court should services not be restored. Khumalo says the problem of unpaid bills has been occurring for far too long and it needs urgent attention.
"We are at the moment considering litigation. Something has to happen and it has to happen now. This has been going on forever. We didn't just find out about it", she says.
The NHLS has over 7 000 people on their payroll. Although there is no current threat of job losses, CEO Dr Sagie Pillay, says the mood is very low in the organisation and his staff is fearful that they may soon be out of jobs. He says his main priority at the moment is reassuring them that retrenchments are not eminent.
"However much I and my executive team try and reassure frontline staff, the media reports and the fact that those suppliers are shutting us off daily, makes it difficult. Appointments are being frozen, we don't have reagents in the labs, creditors are not being paid... How will you, in that environment, despite our best efforts... how do you build confidence that there is a future for you? With 7 200 staff... this sort of thing you cannot communicate in a memo. You have to do by word of mouth, otherwise people are not going to take you seriously", says Dr Pillay.