QWAQWA, 14th SEPTEMBER 2016: The Treatment Action Campaign and SECTION27 condemn reports of crisis emerging hourly from across hospitals in the Free State. We are receiving reports of entire hospitals being shut down, patients being turned away from full and overcrowded facilities, maternity wards filled with women on floors, shut down in overfull casualty and trauma units. The situation is untenable and must be addressed as an emergency.

We outline below specific reports per hospital:

– Manapo Hospital

Staff at Manapo Hospital (Mofumahadi Manapo Mopeli Regional Hospital) in Phuthaditjhaba, Qwa Qwa are currently on strike. All emergencies are being redirected to the already overcrowded Dihlabeng Hospital in Bethlehem, more than 50 kilometers away. Emerging reports suggest the strike is in response to staff including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, porters, security staff, cleaners, kitchen staff etc. receiving no pay for significant amounts of overtime since 2015.

Recently the MEC of Health Dr Benny Malakoane made a public statement that he would cut overtime by a third – yet ongoing tensions suggest this matter has not yet been resolved. Multiple doctors in the Free State have worked more than 80hrs overtime per month (Group 4 overtime) this year. Yet due to the fact they did not get approval they received no compensation. We are deeply concerned that healthcare services will grind to a complete halt if these issues are not urgently addressed. Unions met with the Hospital COO Dr Mzangwa yesterday but no resolutions were made and no end is in sight.

– Dihlabeng Hospital

Dihlabeng Hospital is almost full and cannot accept many of the additional patients. The Maternity Wards are over capacity and women are lying across the floors. The casualty and trauma unit has been unable to respond to a roadside accident where a truck overturned today given a lack of capacity. Further nurses are in meetings to discuss likely strike action.

– Thebe and EL Ross Hospitals

Thebe Hospital and EL Ross Hospital, Manapo’s District Hospitals, are both overfull. Reports from Thebe Hospital show that it cannot accept any caesarians due to there being no theatre lights and not enough doctors on call to operate. A lack of beds means patients are lying on floor beds.

– Reitz Hospital

Reitz Hospital has been to all extents and purposes shut down since 2014. Only the maternity and emergency wards are open. The facilities in the rest of the hospital appear to be properly equipped and appropriately renovated. There is no reason for the hospital to remain closed. The dysfunction is not only affecting patients in the Reitz catchment area – but also the functioning of Bethlehem Hospital. We demand a clear timeframe on the opening of the Hospital. In addition, we expect to know why the Hospital was shut down in the first place.

– Bongani Hospital

Specialists at Bongani Hospital are reported to be threatening to resign. Professional nurses are in discussions to decide about imminent strike action. Further despite promises, the hospital clinic has been shut down without discussions with nearby clinics to ensure they could accommodate the additional patients.

To our knowledge neither Free State MEC of Health Dr Benny Malakoane or Free State Head of Department Dr David Matou have attended any of these hospitals in response to the reports. Instead a low level official has been sent to respond. We have no faith in the provincial department to address this emergency adequately or rapidly. We demand urgent intervention by President Jacob Zuma and Premier Ace Magashule to fix the Free State health system, to pay people for outstanding overtime, and to fire a criminal Health MEC given his clear lack of concern or ability to deal with the ongoing and emerging challenges in the provinces.

Significant effort has been made in order to build relations with the Free State Premier and Health Department in order to work together to improve the healthcare system in recent months. However, the crisis in the province rages on without adequate action. If urgent action is not taken to turnaround this crisis, we will be forced to yet again embark on a campaign of civil disobedience in order to save the lives of those reliant on the failing public healthcare system in the province.

In the upcoming weeks TAC and SECTION27 will engage in a fact finding mission in the province. We will be mobilising communities affected by these crises, collecting testimonies, and visiting affected facilities. All evidence will be shared publicly with the media.

Issued by:

Anele Yawa | General Secretary | TAC | 079 328 1215
Mark Heywood | Executive Director | SECTION27 | 083 634 8806