shortage of drugs

THE shortage of medications in Mpumalanga hospitals has left the institutions and patients in dire straits.

Service providers supplying medicines to the hospitals are owed millions of rands by the provincial health department. As a result, they have stopped delivering.

Health authorities say they have to deal with more than R400million accruals from the past two financial years, and blame this on their cash flow availability.

The province's biggest hospitals - Rob Ferreira in Nelspruit, Themba at KaBokweni, Witbank and Ermelo hospitals - are the hardest hit.

Department spokesperson Mpho Gabashane said yesterday: "It is not a secret that we had to deal with overR400 million accruals from the past two financial years."

"This has unfortunately affected our cash flow availability, resulting in delays in payment of service providers generally, not limited to medicine suppliers."

When he delivered his state of the province address in June, Premier David Mabuza made a public commitment that all service providers owed by the provincial government would have been paid their outstanding monies by the end of August this year. But this has not been the case with the health department.

"We were committed to realising this deadline, but due to cash flow challenges we couldn't pay all service providers by this deadline," Gabashane said.

"Our commitment to settle these outstanding payments, however, remains intact.

"Our records indicate that as it relates to medicine suppliers, we only owe money for August, which should have been settled by September 25.

"An effort is being made to settle this and for many other equally important service providers."

Gabashane said the delay in payment was not the only factor contributing to the shortage of some medicines.

"The tender for supply is drawing towards the end and naturally suppliers no longer stockpile and it takes longer to deliver orders.

"There is also a general shortage of supplies of medicines in the country and this affects all provinces," he said.

Gabashane said the shortages did not constitute a crisis.

"A plan is being put in place to allow resource sharing among facilities, prioritising those with high volumes and ensuring that all essential drugs are available even if at low stock levels," he said.

Karim Boikies, manager at Amalgamated, the company that supplies medicines to the hospitals, refused to comment when contacted yesterday.

Some patients at Rob Ferreira Hospital said the shortage of prescribed medicines had not affected them that much.

Officials at the hospital said: "We try our best to ensure, whatever happens, that all patients are cared for."