KZN health system in crisis

DURBAN, 15th MAY 2017: KwaZulu-Natal’s healthcare services are in a state of emergency with shocking details shared by health workers in the province. Reports reflect a collapsing health system which is in many cases no longer delivering adequate healthcare to the most vulnerable.
 
Hospitals are experiencing shortages of lifesaving medicines and equipment, and suffering with departments that are entirely depleted of staff.
 
SECTION27 has received reports that Inkosi Albert Luthuli and Addington Hospitals are no longer able to effectively treat cancer patients due to equipment breakdowns and a shortage of specialists. Air-conditioning machines are not being repaired resulting in surgeries being cancelled or hospital infections.  The Health Professions Council of South Africa has warned several departments that they will lose their accreditation to train specialists in the current situation. The consequences of the crisis extend even to needless patient deaths. 
 
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has a long track record of working in the province and we receives daily reports from communities of massive challenges in the healthcare system from shortages of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, to medicine stockouts and lengthy waiting lists that threaten lives. A recent snap survey into the state of TB infection control in 20 clinics across the province showed that only two clinics had adequate measures in place, with the rest failing putting people at a high risk of TB infection when they visit clinics. The outcomes are clear – people are dying. We cannot turn a blind eye.
 
Last week, brave health workers took to the streets under the banner of the South African Medical Association’s (SAMA) KZN coastal branch in a desperate attempt to draw attention to the situation.  Their fellow health workers remained at their posts to ensure that patients continued to receive care, but they have made their voices heard in a detailed memorandum which was delivered to the Head of the provincial Department of Health, Dr Sifiso Mtshali.
 
The full memo can be read here, however we wish to highlight a number of urgent issues:
 
-        Despite the huge shortage of doctors, many young doctors are unemployed because there are insufficient community service, intern and even medical officer posts;
-        There are not enough specialists and senior doctors to train young, inexperienced staff;
-        A huge shortage of nurses has led to longer hospital stays for patients, higher numbers of deaths and increased pressure on doctors and remaining nurses;
-        There are critical equipment shortages;
-        The Department fails to maintain and repair high-tech and even day-to-day equipment;
-        Medical record keeping is in a shambles and patient files, with essential medical histories, being lost regularly;
-        Hospital management is not functioning and there is no accountability when things go wrong;
-        Human resources management is poor at all levels despite heavily staffed human resource departments.
 
Most major departments have been hit by the crisis:  Oncology, urology, general surgery, obstetrics, psychiatry, orthopaedics, trauma surgery, intensive or critical care, forensic pathology services, cardiothoracic surgery, paediatrics, cardiology and ENT.
 
Many of the doctors and nurses who have spoken out have worked at the hospitals for over 20 years and remember a time when things worked better. The doctors now accuse the department of “callously” placing them in an untenable situation of “do not resuscitate order” (of the health system). They warned that the current situation erodes the dignity and rights of patients.
 
The TAC and SECTION27 calls on the KwaZulu-Natal and National Departments of Health to urgently share their plans to address this crisis. This is an emergency that requires an emergency response.
 
 
For media comment:
 
Ntsiki Mpulo | SECTION27 | 082 782 7143
Dudu Mthethwa | TAC KZN | 073 129 9309
Mzamo Zondi | TAC KZN | 082 268 2531