Not time to put EC health department under administration: Zweli Mkhize

Health minister Zweli Mkhize, centre, with Eastern Cape health deputy director-general Dr Litha Matiwane at Livingstone Hospital
Health minister Zweli Mkhize, centre, with Eastern Cape health deputy director-general Dr Litha Matiwane at Livingstone Hospital

Though the question of whether the Eastern Cape health department should be placed under administration has come up in parliament, health minister Zweli Mkhize says he is “not yet there”.

Mkhize, who was in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday, said he would instead be sending reinforcements to bolster the province’s Covid-19 strategy.

Speaking at Livingstone Hospital during a two-day visit to Nelson Mandela Bay, Mkhize said questions of a takeover of the provincial  health department had come up in parliament, but “you take over when you get to a point where there’s a whole breakdown of management, there’s reluctance to follow directions and instructions, there’s an internal inability for people to be co-operative.

“We’ve been through a number of instances in the country where this could be done, but I don’t believe we’re there,” he said.

“What we believe needed to be done was to reinforce the department and deal with specific things.

“I have the assurance from the premier [Oscar Mabuyane], [health] MEC [Sindiswa Gomba] and SDG [superintendent director-general Dr Thobile Mbengashe] and I’m quite fine with that.

“We’re still comfortable they can do it and theirs is to save the lives of the people of the province.” 

The Eastern Cape department of health has come under fire in recent weeks, with both the DA and EFF saying Gomba needed to be replaced.

Over the past few weeks, horror stories about public health care in the province have played out in the media.

At Dora Nginza, expectant mothers were left waiting for up to 16 days for caesarean sections and family members had to provide food as staff embarked on a go-slow.

Livingstone Hospital’s passages were strewn with rubbish, bloodied bedsheets were not washed and a report showed that screening protocols were not being adequately followed.

Clinics were regularly shut and staff claimed they did not receive the necessary personal protective equipment.

Wednesday’s briefing was also attended by newly appointed project management unit (PMU) head Dr Sibongile Zungu as well as management officials for other hospitals and clinics in the Nelson Mandela Bay area such as Dora Nginza, Uitenhage Provincial and Empilweni TB hospitals.

Earlier this month, the health department introduced a new testing strategy, focusing testing on hospital patients, their immediate contacts, those showing symptoms and hospital staff.

All community and mobile testing sites in the metro were closed. 

Commenting on the testing strategy, Mkhize said it had shown that the province and metro had not run out of hospital beds but that people under investigation (those suspected of having Covid-19) had filled the beds. 

Mkhize also  instructed the provincial health department to provide daily updates on Covid-19 deaths.

This follows the previous delay in reporting the number of  deaths in Nelson Mandela Bay. 

On Tuesday, it emerged that almost 100 people had died from Covid-19 in the city since the start of July — an average of close to five a day.

On July 2, the death toll from the coronavirus stood at 240 and it remained unchanged until Tuesday, when it emerged there had been a further 96 deaths in the metro since then due to Covid-19.

“MEC, your reporting of deaths must be as they come and on a daily basis,” Mkhize  told Gomba.

“We want to know what the figures are every day.

“We know there are challenges with death reporting because there are those whose comorbidities were worsened by the virus, which resulted in their deaths.

“Others died around the period of Covid-19 and all these must be investigated, but we are saying there’s a process of tracking deaths; we still want daily reports.

“We wont allow you to delay by a day and then another day because it creates a distortion.” 

The department had been  watching the Eastern and Western Cape closely, he said.

“This intervention here is bigger because there are more issues needing to be dealt with here.

“The numbers and conditions here are the reason we sent a team.

“When numbers surged, we picked up a shortfall and this is the second time we’re sending a team here,” Mkhize said.

“We saw protests and we intend to deal with that,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Zungu said she had visited a number of districts in the province since her appointment and had identified historical infrastructure issues.

She said there was also a shortage of ambulances in the province.

“We’re looking at primary health care to ensure services continue to run.

“We’ve drafted a provincial improvement plan and it has different components and time frames,” she said.

“What we’ve planned for is service delivery — we’ve looked at a model so that any patient that requires oxygen can access it in a period of two hours.

“We’ve looked at how far facilities are.

“We’ve picked up that our ambulances are short [insufficient] but we’re ensuring that there are equitable services and access,” she said.


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