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‘Near collapse of health system’ highlighted

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“The Tshwaragano Hospital is literally a death trap and even the Province’s only tertiary hospital in Kimberley, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital, is buckling under the pressure caused by long-term mismanagement.”

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THE PAST week’s public hearings in the Northern Cape on the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill have highlighted what has been termed “the near collapse of the state health system in the Province”.

Delmaine Christains, DA member of the National Council of Provinces, said yesterday that the lack of available and accessible health care in the Northern Cape, despite the establishment of many clinics, community health centres and even hospitals, was shocking.

Following the conclusion of the public hearings in the Province, the chairperson of the portfolio committee on health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, stated that it appeared that as one moved from the capital of the Province (Kimberley) deeper into the Province, the more difficult it became to access basic health services.

Dhlomo called upon the MEC for Health and the Department of Health in the Province to address the challenges that were highlighted by the people during the public hearings as a matter of urgency.

From the DA’s side Christians pointed out yesterday that the majority of health facilities, including the two provincial hospitals, namely Dr Harry Surtie Hospital in Upington and the De Aar Hospital, were “miles away” from operating in their mandated capacity because of the ongoing challenges of shortages of health staff from doctors and nurses to clerks and cleaners, lack of equipment, and out of stocks of medication, to name but a few.

“The situation is replicated across our clinics and CHCs.

“The Tshwaragano Hospital is literally a death trap and even the Province’s only tertiary hospital in Kimberley, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital, is buckling under the pressure caused by long-term mismanagement.”

Christians stated that cancer patients were suffering because of unsustainable treatment options, while mentally ill patients continued to suffer because of a lack of accessible services.

“Emergency medical services as well as patient transport services are dismal. Impoverished patients are expected to pay R200 or more to get to health facilities. More often than not, private transport is roped in to take patients to hospitals when no ambulances are available.”

Christians stated further that the disease burden was also increasing day by day.

“This too is directly due to government’s inability to successfully combat the spread of disease through preventative measures.

“There is an increased incidence of new drug susceptible and drug resistant TB patients in the Northern Cape because of out-of-stock of medication, losing people in the system and non-functioning TB-tracer teams.

“There has been an increase in HIV incidences and a decrease in patients remaining on antiretroviral treatment, as well as an increase in sexually transmitted illnesses. This can be attributed to a number of failures including non-availability of ARVs, lack of condoms due to basic transport issues, and ineffective health services.

“There has also been an increase in severe acute malnutrition due to poor implementation of the World Health Organisation’s 20 steps.”

Christians stated that it was not an over exaggeration to say that people were getting sicker and dying because the current health system is failing the people.

“In other words, the government cannot honestly, effectively and innovatively invest the billions that have already been allocated to the public health sector.

“If the Health Department can’t manage the funds it has, how will it cope with additional billions? It won’t, it will just create another massive, failed state-owned entity that practises patient-shedding because it will have pulled the plug on life support.”

She warned that the NHI would also chase even more health professionals overseas.

“It will open the health sector up to even more corruption. And, instead of raising levels of health care across the public and private sectors, it will bring them down.”