AILING SYSTEM: Patients wait to be attended to at Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. Pic. Muntu Vilakazi. 18/05/2005. © Sunday Times.
AILING SYSTEM: Patients wait to be attended to at Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. Pic. Muntu Vilakazi. 18/05/2005. © Sunday Times.

SUE Grafton observes that: "If high heels were so wonderful, men would be wearing them." Indeed.

Historically, men have been very prominent in the design and making of shoes. It is self-evident that men design, make and sell millions of pairs of high heel shoes throughout the world. But men don't wear high heel shoes. They make them for women.

High heels are not good for your health. They are bad for your back and feet and are not suited to running, carrying and general mobility associated with work.

The announcement recently by the two medical doctors heading the Health Department as minister and deputy minister, Aaron Motsoaledi and Molefi Sefularo, must have sounded like music to the ears of the long-suffering patients in our country.

Many visit some of our public hospitals and clinics with trepidation. Others have been heard describing some of these health facilities as death traps.

The initiative by the Health Department is geared to tackling some of the ills facing public health facilities. Like high heels, many public hospitals and clinics might not, as things stand at present, be good for our health.

Though the plan sounds good on paper, most of us will hope that things would improve so much that the makers of the high heels will not only tell us how great the shoes are, but they themselves will wear them with pride.

The citizens of this country would be inclined to believe in the efficacy of the public sector health system if it were patronised by those who lead and work the system. When the ministers, MECs, senior officials, doctors and nurses working in our public health facilities and their families use these facilities whenever they need medical care, we would know that they have confidence in the system they control.

What are you telling us when you run our public health system but when you or your loved ones are ill, go to the private sector?

The case of a senior official in the health department in Limpopo comes to mind. He was well-known for extolling the virtues of public health facilities in the province.

But when his wife fell ill he rushed her to a private hospital, not the nearest public hospital he had tried so much to sell to citizens of the province.

Owners of private clinics and hospitals, and the health professionals they employ, use those facilities themselves. That is a vote of confidence in the facilities and the professionals who work there.

The initiative by the Health Department seeks to improve the attitude of healthcare staff in our clinics and hospitals; reduce patient queues; drastically improve cleanliness; reduce or eliminate infection rates in our clinics and hospitals; ensure adequate supplies of medicines and equipment, and generally give patients a better service.

Healthcare workers in our country are trained by and accredited to the same institutions, which means that their competence is the same. The difference in performance or patient satisfaction boils down to the work environment, administration, equipment, attitude and remuneration.

Obviously these factors have an impact on one another. Bad administration, for example, would foul the work environment, dent the morale of workers and provide inept support to the workers in terms of equipment and medicaments. It is not inconceivable that a lot of the problems in the public health sector are attributable mainly to bad leadership at institutional level.

It would seem, therefore, that the success of this wonderful initiative would be immensely enhanced by the appointment of qualified and competent people to run our hospitals and clinics.

As Azapo has observed often in the past, our country does have capable people. The problem has been the appointment of people to positions of responsibility on the basis of political or other connectivity as opposed to ability and suitability.

The initiative does not seem to put much emphasis on adequate staffing of our healthcare facilities, with enough doctors, nurses and other professionals. Overstretched and overworked personnel cannot shorten queues and generally deliver efficient service.

This plan deserves lots of wind under its wings and we hope it would be so successful that its initiators would easily find it their "shoes" of choice.

l The writer is Azapo president.