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Patients suffer as EC hospital workers' strike


A wildcat strike has left patients at the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital and surrounding clinics and hospitals without life-saving medicines and treatment for the last two weeks. Reports indicate that the administrative staff went on strike because they are unhappy about their exclusion from a performance bonus.

The Eastern Cape Department of Health (ECDOH) confirmed yesterday that staff from the administration departments and Mthatha medical depot were participating in the wildcat strike, which is not authorised by any of the labour unions. “And it is being treated as such,” said Sizwe Kupelo, spokesperson for the ECDOH. “The department has taken legal action against the strikers and four people have been suspended,” he added

A number staff have not reported for work for the last two-and-a-half weeks because they were overlooked for a Performance Management and Development Systems (PMDS) bonus, a performance-based promotion accompanied by a salary increase.

The Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital is one of the poorest performing hospitals in the country. It has been dubbed “the mortuary” by locals who say that people who go there are likely to die.

“It’s obscene. The strikers are holding the sick and poor at ransom in order to get a pay raise,” said Dr Karl le Roux from the Rural Doctors’ Association for South Africa (RuDASA). According to Le Roux, who works at Zithulele Hospital, the strike has wreaked havoc in the health services in the district.

The medicine depot supplies the Mthatha hospitals, as well surrounding rural clinics and hospitals with medicines and medical equipment, but since late September there has only been one department manager and one pharmacist supplying half the province with these goods. Provision of medication was also affected by the transport workers’ strike which meant delivery of medicines to rural clinics has been erratic at best and patients have been faced with regular stock outs.

“Clinics are running out of essential medicines – ARVs, anti-hypertension medicine,” confirmed a source in a hospital who prefers to remain anonymous. “The repercussions are disastrous. Without medicine, patients default on their treatment, and that can be life-threatening.”

Some medical services at  the hospital complex have also come to a halt since the strike began. According to Le Roux, an in-theatre x-ray machine at the Bedford Orthopaedic Hospital has been broken for several weeks, and there hasn’t been any administrative staff on duty to arrange the repairs. Without the x-ray machine, about 50 percent of critical orthopaedic surgeries requiring in-theatre x-rays have not been performed during the past few weeks.

“Without administrative staff, mothers haven’t been able to get their newborn babies’ Road-to-Health cards stamped, which means they cannot apply for a child support grant at Home Affairs,” said Le Roux.

“This strike is causing a lot of suffering and even unnecessary deaths. In the public service health service where your first responsibility is to your patients – not to yourself,” a distressed Le Roux said.


Health-e is a news agency that produces news and in-depth analysis for the print and electronic media. Their particular focus is HIV/AIDS, public health and issues regarding health policy and practice in South Africa. They provide print features for newspapers and magazines and well as broadcast packages for national and community radio stations. They also accept commissions. 

Information in this article was accurate in October 18, 2012. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.