DEBATE ON HEALTH BUDGET ADJUSTMENT BY HON. NJ NKWANYANA, MPL KZN LEGISLATURE

Hon. Speaker,

The IFP notes and welcome a lump sum of R8.2 billion, which was set aside for the Health Department in the Province to tackle the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

We commend the efforts of the Department in the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, additional staff, ICU beds and additional infrastructure. The IFP is in support of all government initiatives and programmes aimed at saving people’s lives and improving our healthcare system.

We acknowledge that there has been a consistent downward trend in cases across our municipalities, which points to a holding pattern thus far. However, we should not be complacent, as there are concerns that there may be a surge in cases for a second wave, which could hit us badly if we are not careful.

The IFP would like to know how prepared the Department is for the possibility of a second wave, which is the riskiest period in the fight against Covid-19. How much of the R8.2 billion is still available, and what plans does the Department have, should the second wave be worse?  Can the Department give us the confidence that we will be able to detect any resurgence of Covid-19 infections quickly enough, should the country move to Level 1?

FUNDS MOVED FROM COMPENSATION OF EMPLOYEES 

The IFP notes the R42 million that was moved from Compensation of Employees to fund the brigade of 27 Cuban doctors. This move was rather unfortunate. We feel that the money to fund Cuban doctors could have come from other sources, rather than depriving healthcare workers of their annual increase, which they highly deserve for braving the storm and risking their lives. These costs to Cuban doctors are also not justified, given the difficulties some local doctors and nurses experience in finding work in our country.

CONDITIONAL GRANTS 

The IFP also commend that Health Department received an allocation of R86.847 million towards the HIV, TB, Malaria and Community Outreach Grant. We understand that these funds are meant to complement provincial Covid-19 spending.

However, we urge the Department to consider accommodating the psychological impact of Covid-19 through its Community Outreach Grant. Six months into lockdown, the impact on the mental health of South Africans has been immense and there is an urgent need for mental health experts to be included in health programmes, to deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

There was also the R138.9 million Provincial Disaster Relief Grant, allocated towards procuring Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and ventilators.  But it is shocking that we still receive reports that there is a shortage of PPE in some healthcare facilities. Funds allocated for PPE must be fully utilised, so that nurses and doctors are protected from this deadly virus at all times.

INFRASTRUCTURE

The reprioritisation of the baseline allocation of R400 million on planned infrastructure projects seem to be a big stumbling block for the Department of Health. The Covid-19 pandemic has already exposed the shortcomings of the Department due to their severe lack of infrastructure. Millions of rands had to be directed towards hotels that were used as quarantine sites. Those millions can now be used for critical infrastructure projects.

Lack of facilities saw the Department resorting to installing tents to accommodate Covid-19 patients in Pietermaritzburg, Durban and other areas. Again, the Department had to convert existing wards into quarantine and isolation sites because it lacks adequate infrastructure.

In many municipalities, clinics still do not have shelters to accommodate patients. It is therefore unfortunate that critical infrastructure projects had to be halted to focus on Covid-19 infrastructure. However, we welcome the announcement that since Covid-19 numbers have gone down, the 11 field sites will no longer be built.

Programmes such as maintenance for hospitals, capital projects, replacement of asbestos roofing, supply of 61 light delivery maintenance vehicles and all other critical programmes should now be prioritised again.

BEYOND COVID-19

We call upon the MEC of Health, Hon. Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, to provide clarity with the plan to move forward, as the Covid-19 storm has passed. How much money would be saved from cancelled programmes and how will those monies be redirected to other programmes? It would be good to have a clear picture on when we can expect infrastructure projects to commence again. The resources that have been procured, such as vehicles used for contact tracing – what is the re-utilisation plan, so that communities without clinics closer to them can benefit? We do not want to see critical resources being left idle and misused, post Covid-19. We are of the view that the infrastructure that relates to Covid-19 should be utilised even after Covid-19 because even now, we are faced with infrastructure challenges in many communities. It is of no use to spend billions of rands on infrastructure that will be demolished once Covid-19 is over. People will still need to be accommodated by that infrastructure.

STAFF ISSUES

The IFP notes a large portion of the costs related to additional staff, such as ICU staff, doctors, nurses and tracing teams, at a cost of R3.2 billion. While commending the provincial government for working tirelessly to save lives, the IFP is concerned about the delay in filling some vacant posts, as has been the case with the newly built Pixley Isaka KaSeme Hospital.  We further note that more temporary staff were employed during this time of pandemic. The IFP urges the MEC to ensure that staff remain employed full-time to deal with healthcare staff shortages. The shortage of staff has been the greatest challenge for the health sector in KZN for years. We would like this Department to expedite the recruitment process so that this problem can be resolved, in order to address the core concerns across the Province. The IFP urges the MEC to ensure that the temporary staff working during this pandemic are considered for full-time employment, even after Covid-19.

IN CONCLUSION

The IFP urges the Hon. MEC of Health, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, to ensure that the funding is used sparingly to fulfil its intended purpose. It must not be another case of lack of consequence management for corrupt officials, dodgy tenders, wasteful and irregular expenditure, fraud, corruption and blatant incompetence, and another qualified audit opinion from the AG. The Department must prove us wrong by ensuring that this budget is fully utilised and that no corruption is involved.

The IFP echoes the calls for Covid-19 awareness to continue. It is concerning that there are some people who are still reluctant to wear masks and practise social distancing.

The IFP supports the adjustment budget.

I thank you.