Strike by doctors hits KZN hardest

KWAZULU-NATAL remains the hardest hit by a 10-day doctors' strike since the provincial government is now forced to cough up more than R2million a week to pay private hospitals.

The health department has been forced to outsource and transfer critical patients to private hospitals as the medics strike continues.

More than 200 doctors, who defied a court order instructing them to go back to work, have already been sacked.

MEC for health Sibongiseni Dhlomo said more money was likely to be lost as the strike continued.

But it appears that the department is only targeting junior doctors who had just joined the profession - as first-year doctors or interns.

The province has 3833 doctors and specialists, excluding community services workers and intern doctors.

State patients not requiring emergency treatment are being sent home daily at key state hospitals in the region despite the assistance from army personnel who were brought in as the strike intensified last week.

Doctors embarked on the countrywide illegal strike complaining about the delays in the implementation of the occupational specific dispensation, which is an adjustment of salary grades for public servants.

Provincial health spokesperson Chris Maxon said: "We tried to ask workers to return to work but they even defied the court order."

Maxon said it was not true that they were only targeting junior doctors or driving them out of the system.

"We took the decision because they are gambling with people's lives. And we have made it clear that fired doctors can reapply for their positions and come and present their cases," Maxon said.

He said that in Durban 40 patients had been transferred to a private hospital at an average cost of R27000 a day.

Maxon denied that the government would bring in foreign doctors to assist in state hospitals country-wide.

"We are not driving our doctors out of the system, we are merely saying that foreign doctors have indicated they would assist if the need arises."

Doctors' spokesperson Shilendra Sham said the matter of fired doctors had been handed over to their unions and to their legal representatives.

"The group of doctors, dentists and pharmacists said from the outset that no matter how many of them were expelled, they will continue with the strike until the department meets our demands."

He said the department was destroying the entire health system because sacked doctors included heads of departments, most of whom were in the emergency services.

Sham said they did not want patients to die but they were amazed by the move of the department to pay exorbitant fees to private hospitals.

He said it would have been less expensive if the department had agreed to the demands of the doctors in the first place.