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‘Disband medico-legal unit’

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“He obtained an interdict against the unions last year and refused to meet with representatives.”

UNIONS in the Province are calling for the disbandment of the medico-legal unit that was established at the Department of Health by the head of department (HOD), Steven Jonkers, in 2017, following his departure at the end of last month.

The task team was set up to handle medical legal claims made against the Department of Health that exceed R1 billion, where the project team would enlist the services of private legal experts and companies to assist in court settlements.

Jonkers returned to the Office of the Premier on March 2 to resume his duties as a deputy director general, responsible for policy and governance.

In a letter of appreciation to the Department of Health, Jonkers, thanked every staff member for their contribution towards strengthening the health system.

The Premier’s Office was ordered in an arbitration award to compensate Jonkers almost

R1 million and reinstate him to his former position in May 2016 when his contract as HOD for the Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison was not renewed in 2015.

Jonkers did not return to the Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison and was instead appointed as HOD at the Department of Health in 2017, as an administrator. His contract was expected to end in 2021.

Unions have pointed out that the positions of the officials employed to serve on the medico-legal task team, where three-year contracts were concluded, did not exist on the organogram.

Many of the officials, including a financial officer, three medical panel doctors, three internal officials, three administration officers and five legal officers, were employed as deputy directors and directors, which cost the department in the region of R4.2 million per annum.

National, Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) regional secretary Moleme Moleme called for a “swift and robust response” to the medical-legal challenges at the Department of Health.

“The appointment of fellow travellers and friends must be nipped in the bud as it smacks of corrupt practice. The committee has been serving areas other than what they are appointed for and it cannot be condoned,” said Moleme.

He added that Jonkers’ deployment had been “hanging in the balance” for some time.

“The health cluster of Nehawu, including James Exum building, West End specialist hospital and Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital, and Cosatu in the Province have been engaging in a concerted campaign to oust Jonkers from the department, following a resolution that was taken during an ANC lekgotla that validated our efforts.

“We are happy that finally Jonkers is out of the department. We call on the employer to consult Nehawu on the impending restructuring of the department. We are adamant that management must be overhauled. Furthermore we call on the permanent appointment of HODs and chief executive officers with a medical background. This will ensure we effectively change the situation at the Department of Health.”

Public Servants Association provincial manager Stephen Ledibone called for an independent investigation to be conducted into alleged irregular transactions concluded by the medical legal unit.

“Any official who wrongly benefited should be held accountable and must refund the department in their personal capacity. The medical legal unit has cost taxpayers millions of rand over the past three years, without any visible improvements or cost saving to the department,” said Ledibone.

He pointed out that the posts that were filled in this unit were never advertised and did not follow recruitment policies.

“We were not informed about the scope of their work or duties that they were expected to perform.

“These officials should not be absorbed into the department without being subjected to stringent selection and evaluation processes for a vacant post that exists on the organogram.”

Ledibone added that Jonkers had failed to forge a good relationship with the unions.

“He obtained an interdict against the unions last year and refused to meet with representatives.

“Under his administration a number of questionable tenders were concluded including the multimillion-rand security contract and defunct flat-screen televisions that cost R11 million. Emergency medical services are struggling to attend to emergencies as they do not have the basic equipment and there is still a dire shortage of doctors and nurses.”

Vincent Phuroe said the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa would hold a meeting this week to discuss the recent developments at the Department of Health.

Northern Cape Department of Health spokesperson Lulu Mxekezo referred all media enquiries to the Office of the Premier.

She did not indicate if the medico-legal unit would continue functioning or if the contracts of the officials appointed there would be extended when their contracts come to an end this year.

The Office of the Premier did not respond to media enquiries.

Meanwhile, emergency medical services in the Pixley ka Seme region have agreed to call off strike action following a meeting that was held with the MEC for Health.

They said they had returned to their posts after a commitment was made to provide them with the basic equipment and resources necessary to attend to their duties, by the end of the month.

EMS staff embarked on a shutdown of several district hospitals in the Province last month, where patients had to find their own means of transport if they required medical attention.