National Department raises concern
A MASSIVE shortage of staff, including doctors and nurses, at the Kimberley Hospital has raised concern from all quarters, including the National Department of Health.
The blame for the shortage has been attributed to bureaucratic red tape, with nurses reportedly not having been appointed for two and a half years.
During a recent visit by the National Department of Health to assess service delivery challenges at the Kimberley Hospital, it was pointed out that the hospital was significantly understaffed, leading to burnout among personnel.
Shortages are being experienced among nursing staff, doctors, allied health professionals, cleaners, porters, admission clerks, data capturers as well as in the workshops and stores.
It was pointed out by the team from the national department that there was a lack of delegations for human resource recruitment and it was recommended that scarce skills should be recruited by head-hunting personnel.
It is believed that one of major obstacles in the appointment of staff is that the MEC has not signed off on the appointment of the selection panel, while the CEO of the hospital has not been delegated the authority to make appointments.
During the recent visit by the delegation, the lack of cleanliness at the hospital, which appeared to be very dirty, was also raised. This was attributed to the low numbers of cleaning staff.
A shortage of staff in the workshop has also resulted in the ablution facilities at the hospital not being properly maintained, while other maintenance backlogs, including repairs to leaking roofs, were also noted.
A shortage of theatre nurses was also raised as a matter of concern, which has resulted in long waiting times for theatre procedures, especially for orthopeadic patients.
The severe shortage of theatre nurses has also resulted in reduced operating time at the hospital.
Theatre nurses have not been replaced for two years.
The shortage of staff at the hospital has also solicited concern from political parties and the Democratic Alliance said yesterday that it was worried that, in spite of commitments by the Health Department to decentralise the recruitment process for the appointment of health professionals at the Kimberley Hospital, staffing at the Northern Cape’s only tertiary facility remained a problem.
“At its prime, the Kimberley Hospital used to employ 1 000 nurses. Now, they only have 450 nurses. While doctors themselves are short staffed, they find themselves doing nurses’ work on top of their own workload,” the DA’s spokesperson for health, Isak Fritz, said yesterday.
“A recent oversight visit to the Kimberley Hospital revealed that there is especially a lack of theatre nurses. Not all theatres are operational and theatre time has been further cut. This aggravates a growing surgery backlog. This impacts on all services, especially smaller services such as ENT, urology plastic and burns, because bigger surgery takes precedence.”
He added that staff shortages had also inhibited the opening of the state of the art High Care Unit at the hospital, which was critical in order to take pressure off the ICU.
“Obstetrics and gynaecology in particular and under extreme pressure due to the shortage of senior doctors. The lack of proper supervision, support and guidance has a negative impact on the quality of care, threatening the desired outcomes on maternal and peri-natal morbidity and mortality.”
According to Fritz, the shortage of nurses who are specialised in mental health care is also worrying and has contributed to violations of patients’ rights that occur in the facility.
“Despite the dire personnel shortage at the hospital, recruitment is simply not happening. In fact, the hospital has not done recruitment of nurses since December 2015,” Fritz added.
“No nursing auxiliaries have been appointed for two and a half years. Last October the hospital interviewed theatre nurses. They only got the submissions back from the provincial head office round about the end of March this year, by which time they could only appoint eight out of the 20 nurses who applied, as the others had already found employment elsewhere.”
He stated further that only 40 of 60 medical officers were replaced. “Obstetricians, psychiatrists and gynaecologists who applied to work at the hospital are amongst the professionals who have been lost to the Kimberley Hospital due to the inefficient appointment process.”
Fritz added that the staffing challenge at the Kimberley Hospital was multifaceted.
“The provincial department has failed to approve the Kimberley Hospital’s organogram for close to a decade, refusing to accept the critical need for more doctors and nurses. Funded vacant posts were abolished in November last year in a detrimental and superficial move to make the health department’s vacancy rate look better. And powers of appointment still lie at the provincial head office,” he said.
“It is appalling that appointment processes are so delayed that, by the time the department actually gives its stamp of approval, which can be many months down the line, applicant health professionals, including specialists, are no longer interested or have long since been hired in other provinces.”
He called for hospital management to be empowered to fill it without going through a lengthy process.
“The Kimberley Hospital should be able to make critical appointments within five minutes, not six months.
“Given the health department’s overall dire financial state, we understand Health MEC Fufe Makatong’s desire to be cautious in terms of managing scarce financial health resources of the province. Caution, however it should not equate to micromanagement, which is known to hinder innovation and growth,” he stated.
“The bottom line is that health care is provided by health professionals and not the hundreds of pen pushers who fill the provincial office’s administration block. It’s high time that health care must be placed first.”
Northern Cape Department of Health spokesperson, Lebogang Majaha, yesterday refuted claims that the MEC had refused to approve the interview panel to fill vacant funded posts.
“We refute this claim as the MECs interest and desire has always been to bring about management and leadership stability in the department. The MEC is committed to filling all vacant funded positions not later than end of September 2018.”
Majaha added that the department had established a “re-engineering process to develop a well-consulted and credible human resource plan and organisational structure that will highlight the financial resources needed by the Department to fill all posts in the establishment”.
“This process is currently under consultation with organised labour before finally presenting it to Treasury, in our attempt to secure more financial resources.
“The MEC remains committed to changing the Kimberley hospital situation for the better and to also enhance service delivery at all healthcare facilities across the province,” he concluded.