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City hospital acting CEO urged not to bow to union pressure and resign

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Unions claim interim CEO of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital has failed to put measures in place to protect staff and patients, while doctors and medical consultants condemn “baseless allegations”

The Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital. File picture: Soraya Crowie

TRADE unions are demanding the resignation of the interim CEO of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital, Dr Alistair Kantani, while doctors and medical consultants handed over a petition on Monday urging him not to bow to pressure from organised labour.

It is believed that following an intervention, Kantani consequently withdrew his resignation. 

This follows an unannounced inspection by the Department of Employment and Labour at the hospital last week that was apparently abruptly halted midway. 

Various unions had requested an investigation into complaints of non-compliance with regards to Covid-19 occupational health and safety regulations. 

Nehawu, Hospersa, the PSA and Denosa, on July 23, all requested the chief inspector at the Department of Employment and Labour to intervene.

“We view this conduct as interference in the work of an inspector,” the unions said after the inspection was halted last week.

The unions believed that the acting CEO had failed to put the necessary measures in place at the hospital to protect staff and patients during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Nehawu branch chairperson Godfrey Davids stated that the unions were concerned about the high Covid-19 infection rate among staff members at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital.

“At least 67 nurses tested positive for Covid-19 while conducting their duties and one nurse is currently in the intensive care unit. We are sure that more medical staff and workers have been infected. Staff and patients are being unduly exposed to Covid-19 as the wards where persons who tested positive were never decontaminated. Staff are expected to work without personal protective equipment. The hospital should be closed, decontaminated and all persons tested to prevent further outbreaks,” said Davids on Monday.

He claimed that a number of irregularities were highlighted by the labour inspectors during the course of the investigation last week, before it was abruptly halted by the CEO.

“The unions will meet with the head of the Department of Health on Tuesday, where we expect the reasons to be provided as to why his resignation was retracted,” added Davids.

Meanwhile, doctors and medical consultants expressed their support for Kantani and condemned the “baseless allegations” made against him as a form of constructive dismissal. 

“We call upon the South African government to urgently intervene and establish a rational, constructive and logical solution that will improve the standards of health care in the Province. We urge the HOD for Health not to accept the resignation as we require continued leadership at this stage of the pandemic and not reckless, egocentric changes that will sink the provision of health care services.” 

They believed that Kantani had “consistently and diligently provided ethical and transparent leadership”, where services were made accessible to the disadvantaged, impoverished and underprivileged communities in the Province. 

“Unions are making frivolous and completely unfounded baseless accusations just to close down various services. Dr Kantani cares deeply about nurses and employees and has personally encouraged us to continue using our medical officers to essentially perform occupational health functions in our various units and departments, screening and testing employees for Covid-19 of all categories in addition to our normal specialist duties.” 

The medical consultants added that it was not advisable to close all the wards and theatres of the hospital. 

“Areas that require disinfecting have been carried out by the infection control unit and environmental health practitioners. Contact tracing was performed and areas disinfected. All Covid-19 guidelines were followed and staff were informed via SMS when fellow workers became infected. Infected staff were tested and placed in self-isolation. No one was forced to report for work if any staff member exhibited symptoms.”  

DA provincial leader Andrew Louw called on the MEC for Health, Maruping Lekwene, to waste no time in resolving management issues at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital (RMSH).

“The tertiary facility, on which the whole Province depends for specialised services, has been on a downward spiral for many years.” 

Louw stated that a large number of health professionals who had sought employment at RMSH had instead found employment in the Western Cape, which offered contract posts during the Covid-19 pandemic. “This is to the detriment of the Province’s own under-capacitated system where a shortage of staff leads to backlogs.

“We also see a situation whereby procurement is pitiful, leading to the purchase of incorrect medical supplies, or simply none at all. We see lack of maintenance hamper critical services, like oxygen supply. Infrastructure issues are left to simply deteriorate, like the visibly broken window in the Covid-19 ward in the old Curomed facility that has simply been patched up with a piece of cardboard,” said Louw.

Northern Cape Department of Health spokesperson Lulu Mxekezo indicated on Monday that Kantani was still the acting CEO at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital.