Doctor shortage is crippling KwaZulu-Natal state healthcare

17 April 2017 - 17:05 By Katharine Child

The healthcare system is collapsing in KwaZulu-Natal‚ where hospitals are short-staffed and filled with broken equipment while remaining staff battle frustration to offer patients life-saving treatment.

"Every day it gets worse‚" says head of KwaZulu-Natal coastal branch of the South African Medical Association Mvuyisi Mzukwa.

A letter was written to the head of SA Medical Association by Mzukwa on behalf of the province’s doctors. The letter is in The Times possession. It is titled the "collapse of system" and warns of a growing risk in medical legal cases due to the reduced level of care at short-staffed hospitals.

The letter details:

  • There is only one oncologist in the whole of Durban and South Coast area. Oncologists quit en masse due to broken equipment.
  • There is only one urologist in the whole region. This means that patients needing help with prostate cancer and kidney stones receive no treatment.
  • There is a 9-month wait for an MRI for any Durban state patient.
  • Ultrasounds at St Aiden's hospital have a six-month wait so patients can't have simple diseases or problems diagnosed.
  • The company‚ Resultant Finance‚ that won a tender worth R2.5 billion in 2015 to buy and maintain all hospital equipment for the province has not provided much since 2014.
  • The radiotherapy machines don’t work in Addington hospital so cancer cannot be treated there.
  • There is a shortage of anaesthetists across the province leading to delayed surgeries.
  • 440 children who are diabetic are at risk of having no specialist supervise their complicated treatment as the two full time paediatric endocrinologists quit‚ leaving only one part time specialist at Inkosi Albert Luthuli hospital.

The letter strikes a blow at government policy‚ saying the entire focus is on primary health care to the detriment of specialist services. Government policy is to spend money on clinics and nurses and improve basic health system so that fewer people need specialist treatment.

  • Health department in sick bay: R3.2bn budget shortfall leaves 11.5% of jobs unfilledThe Department of Health has revealed that it cannot afford to hire its full complement of nurses and doctors, telling MPs it is short of at least R3.2-billion for the 2017-2018 financial year. 

KwaZulu-Natal stopped training specialists in 2015 as it couldn’t afford to pay the specialist in training‚ known as registrars and only trained a few in 2016.

The letter details vacancies at every major Durban hospital. At least 15 hospitals are severely affected by staff cuts. This includes the biggest and most specialised hospitals in Durban to which the sickest patients across the province are referred. The list includes Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital‚ King Edward Hospital and Addington Hospital and Pietermaritizburg Greys Hospital - all specialist hospitals as well as smaller hospitals such as St Aidans‚ RK Khan hospital‚ Stanger hospital and McCord's hospital.

Doctors say staff are not replaced when they resign and registrars are no longer being trained so they are not working in hospitals where they used to offer support to junior doctors.

Broken equipment is never repaired in the same financial year it breaks‚ said a doctor.

Last month‚ the director-general of health in the province‚ Precious Matsoso‚ told parliament that there were many vacancies across the country as the provincial departments of health could not afford to hire the doctors they needed. She warned of a growing number of lawsuits as patients did not get the care they needed because of the countrywide shortage of doctors. Matsoso said 12.5% posts across the country were frozen or vacant with hospitals prevented from hiring more staff.

The department has not responded to questions about the Sama letter.

- The Times

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