Hospital staff crisis ‘ignored’ by EC officials

Estelle Ellis

THE Eastern Cape Health Department will not address the dire staffing problems at the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex, despite threats by Nelson Mandela Bay’s most senior state doctors to only provide emergency services until the staffing crisis is sorted out.

Defying department orders, the doctors – led by cardiologist Dr Basil Brown, surgeon Dr Sats Pillay and paediatrician Dr Lungile Pepeta – spoke on Monday on behalf of the heads of the department at the Provincial, Livingstone and Dora Nginza hospitals.

They gave notice to the public that they no longer had the staff capacity to deliver anything but emergency and life-saving procedures at the complex.

But department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said yesterday the province would “not be held to ransom”.

“We have no intention of meeting their demands by Friday. We will not be bullied,” he said.

“Those doctors who do not do what they are paid to do next week will be disciplined in accordance with the labour law.”

He said the heads of the three hospitals had been instructed to begin disciplinary action against the “ringleaders” of the protest.

But the doctors said all their attempts to convince the department of the dire staff crisis had fallen on deaf ears.

Reiterating the doctors’ frustration over provincial inadequacy, a Port Elizabeth-born doctor who decided to move to the private sector after long delays in being appointed at Livingstone Hospital, said yesterday the public was paying – sometimes with their lives – for the department’s failure to deliver.

Dr Noel Walton said despite his private sector employment, he was keen to continue working in state hospitals as a specialist in kidney diseases.

“I worked at Livingstone Hospital in the renal unit from April 2008 to January 2010, and in my resignation letter I expressed the need for a nephrologist in the unit as the intensive care unit consultants were covering both units at the time,” he said.

After hearing of a dedicated medical officer post going at the hospital, Walton applied for the position in March this year.

“I was informed at the time that posts were frozen and I might only get appointed at the start of the new financial year.

“Subsequently, I heard that the Treasury department had the final say on appointments to the department… My understanding turned to frustration and, with time, dismay,” Walton said.

“Who pays for these delays? Our people, our mothers, fathers and children. I got another job offer in the private sector and have to move on.

“The people are the ones who pay when [the state] fails to deliver – sometimes with their lives. Is that something we can live with?”

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