Premier fumes at crisis
"On the Mail & Guardian scorecard, Nomvula will get a ZZ. As a political head, I come across as stupid. I'm not going to apologise because I did my part. We should take collective responsibility."
With these harsh words Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane ended an almost four-hour emergency meeting with the provincial health MEC and medical staff at the embattled Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital last night.
Mokonyane, health MEC Hope Papo and the hospital's CEO, Barney Selebano, cleared their hectic diaries yesterday to convene a crisis meeting after a damning report in The Times on life-threatening conditions at the hospital.
A highly irritable Mokonyane spared no one, including her own political staff, for having given her the impression that everything was under control at the hospital.
Yesterday, The Times published shocking details of doctors forced, at times, to play God and decide which patients should be resuscitated and which turned away.
In some cases, doctors have had to compromise patients' safety because the equipment needed to perform sensitive operations, including brain and heart surgery, was either not working or not available.
Mokonyane said she had instructed her staff to give hospital CEOs delegation powers and that she had been assured they had been sent letters about two weeks ago informing them of the decision.
Some of the hospital's problems stem from procurement being handled at provincial offices instead of the hospital.
"I think you guys are not fair to us, really . it is insubordination. Who in hell would delay such things," Mokonyane lashed out at the health department officials at the meeting at Charlotte Maxeke.
"My frustration is that I came here because I could not understand why you [doctors] are complaining."
Her reaction follows yesterday's exposé of letters written by 12 heads of department at the hospital highlighting critical shortages of medical staff and life-saving equipment, compromising patients' lives and safety.
The premier said she had been "shocked" when she had received a call yesterday morning to tell her of the reports about Charlotte Maxeke.
"It can't be Women's Month and we talk and honour Charlotte Maxeke . and this is happening here. I told myself I had to come here," she said.
On August 4, President Jacob Zuma delivered a memorial lecture in honour of Maxeke, a founding member of the ANC Women's League and apartheid activist after whom the hospital was named. It was previously Johannesburg Hospital.
Mokonyane warned her staff that they should take their jobs seriously and that everything was ultimately about the hospital's patients.
"I'm sitting here today and I'm shocked at what I'm hearing."
She warned that those appointed in the health department should be less concerned about getting their government cellphones and personal assistants and instead focus on what their jobs entailed.
After listening to complaints from several doctors, Mokonyane said she understood their frustration, but did not appreciate their going to the media.
"Now you are going to the media. I don't agree . each one of us must take our job seriously. My plea is for professionals to become part of that [fixing the problems]."
One doctor, however, told her: "We are very frustrated. We knock our heads against the wall. It's hard not to get demotivated."
Mokonyane vowed that the problems plaguing the hospital would be dealt with immediately - no matter what.
"We are going to create time to fix them."
Mokonyane gave clear instructions on how she wanted Papo, Selebano and the finance department to sort out the problems.
Meetings will be held later this week and on Friday next week, where Papo will have to present "the way forward".
Mokonyane said: "Go and find a solution to our problems.
"I want a plan on how we are going to deal with vacancies, maintenance, equipment and consumables. We are going to make time after hours. Let's tackle these things as they come," she instructed.
Citing a complete turnaround strategy that sorted out problems at Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital, Mokonyane said this should be used as a benchmark: "Bara is in control of what it needs."
Doctors at the Charlotte Maxeke meeting praised the premier, saying she was "very supportive and very open".
They said it was "amazing how, within hours of the newspaper hitting the stands, the meeting was convened for 2pm".
"The equipment and consumables may continue to be a problem but at least we will have staff," one of the doctors told the premier.
It is believed that extra money that had been given to Chris Hani Bara has been lent to Charlotte Maxeke. The hospital received only a R1.17-billion budget from the Gauteng health department despite requesting R2.6-billion for this financial year. Gauteng health spokesman Simon Zwane said: "As a department, we would like to fill the posts as soon as we can find suitable candidates. There will be a gradual process of filling critical vacant posts not only at Charlotte Maxeke but at other hospitals."
Advocacy group Section 27, which took the national Department of Education to court earlier this year over its failure to deliver textbooks to Limpopo, called for adequate budgeting for hospitals based on the burden of disease and patient numbers treated.
Spokesman Sha'ista Goga said: "Each time a crisis hits the newspapers, instead of addressing the underlying issues related to overspending, the Gauteng department of health first denies there is a problem. Then it shifts spending from one area to another, effectively fighting fires rather than addressing the core issues with a structured attempt to develop a realistic needs-based budget that facilitates the delivery of healthcare services to the public."