Hospitals will buy own meds

26 July 2013 - 02:16 By KATHARINE CHILD
Patients in the central corridor of Charlotte Maxeke Academic Johannesburg Hospital. File photo.
Patients in the central corridor of Charlotte Maxeke Academic Johannesburg Hospital. File photo.

Gauteng hospitals have been plagued by medicines running out and shortages of surgical gloves and syringes - so the health minister is changing the way hospitals buy supplies.

No longer will 20 hospitals in Gauteng rely on "middlemen" or drug depots infested with fraud and incompetence.

Instead, hospitals will be able to buy medicines and other supplies themselves, and have them delivered directly.

Yesterday, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, the Gauteng health department and Wits University signed an agreement that gives doctors and Wits professors the right to place orders directly with suppliers.

Wits medical professors who run departments at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital have been working for more than a year on the plan to give hospitals more control.

But Professor Ken Huddle told the minister at the signing ceremony yesterday that, if the system was to work, administrative systems and the quality of management staff in hospitals needed to improve.

Motsoaledi criticised the current depot system, saying medicine moved from supplier to multiple depots before eventually reaching a hospital.

"Sometimes one set of medicines is packed and repacked seven times," he said.

Last year, forensic investigators audited and uncovered corruption at the Auckland Park depot in Gauteng that supplies Johannesburg hospitals. The DA's Jack Bloom said insiders have characterised the report as "damning".

He said he had repeatedly asked the Gauteng legislature to make the report public.

Gauteng Health MEC Hope Papo has suspended four senior staff members from the depot for alleged fraud.

Motsoaledi said although fraud is found everywhere, hospitals have greater incentive to order medicines as they are dealing with sick patients.

"At depots, officials can steal drugs and they don't see they are delaying care. In hospitals the doctors can show them the patients needing medicine."

He said hospital CEOs would have a contingency budget for emergency supplies and would receive training from Treasury officials on complying with financial regulations.

Wits University vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib said the agreement empowered academic doctors to make sure the health system was working. "It also empowers them to train people," he said.

As part of the agreement, R300-million has been set aside for equipment purchases in this financial year.

It also allows CEOs to order hospital equipment costing less than R500 000 without approval from a central committee.

Habib said medical equipment was needed in hospitals so proper training of registrars and medical students could take place.

The national department will monitor the delivery of equipment and drugs from a "control tower" at the head office in Pretoria.

Motsoaledi said his department's supervision was essential because he was blamed every time hospitals ran out of antiretrovirals.

"I look inefficient. I want to start to know [what is going on]," he said.