'This could be worse than Life Esidimeni' - Doctors on North West health crisis

FILE PICTURE: Roads around Mafikeng and the surrounding villages are closed making it difficult for motorist to drive around.
FILE PICTURE: Roads around Mafikeng and the surrounding villages are closed making it difficult for motorist to drive around.
Image: Tiro Ramatlhatse

The health crisis in the North West could end up being worse than the Life Esidimeni tragedy‚ according to a group of doctors.

The 73 doctors have penned an emotional plea for urgent action in the province‚ which has been crippled by protests and a nurses’ strike.

“We have taken an oath to ‘do no harm’ and in our silence‚ we have contributed to harm. This cannot go on as we are concerned about methods used which include closure of health care facilities that affect the health of our society‚” the letter reads.

“Of note provision of health care is an entrenched Constitutional right in South Africa. The grievances of the striking employees are valid and supported‚ however the modus operandi is condemned‚ particularly the shutting down of health service provision.”

The doctors said the crisis had been fuelled by a number of factors‚ including corruption‚ job freezes‚ skills shortages and outsourcing. They said striking workers had shut the main medical depot‚ leading to a shortage of medication and other supplies. Furthermore‚ some hospitals and clinics had been closed‚ while striking staff had also intimidated their colleagues and forced them to abandon patients.

“These communities cannot access preventative‚ obstetric‚ both acute and chronic‚ surgical or medical care. Ironically these actions are committed by individuals‚ some of whom are likely to have access to private health care via medical aids and are thus unlikely to be personally affected by their actions‚” the letter says.

The letter warned that the poor and disabled were among those who suffered the most.

“Many psychiatric patients (have not been) treated‚ which may make Life Esidimeni numbers look insignificant‚” the letter cautions.

At least 144 psychiatric patients died after 1‚711 mentally ill people were moved from Life Esidimeni homes to ill-equipped and underfunded NGOs in 2016 in Gauteng.

The doctors called for the immediate reopening of healthcare facilities‚ including main medical stores‚ the unfreezing of posts‚ employing adequate numbers of qualified staff‚ and paying the outstanding bills of suppliers.

Speaking to the Morning Live show on SABC‚ Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi expressed his dismay at the situation.

“Sending the army is a temporary measure. We will definitely meet the union in the province. My going there was because‚ regardless what grievances people have‚ we do not think they must punish ordinary people‚” Motsoaledi said.

Over the past few months health services have ground to a halt in many parts of the North West owing to a strike by the National Education‚ Health‚ and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu). That situation was exacerbated last week when violent service delivery protests broke out‚ leading to many roads being shut down.

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