BY HON. N.J NKWANYANA
Firstly, I would like to commend our frontline healthcare workers who are at the forefront of fighting the invisible enemy of Covid-19. We appreciate their dedication and selflessness during this trying time. We would also like to send condolences to the families of those healthcare workers – and all others – who have succumbed to Covid-19-related illnesses.
We also want to commend the efforts of the MEC, and the whole Department of Health, for ensuring that KZN was better prepared to deal with Covid-19. However, healthcare facilities in KwaZulu-Natal have been facing shortcomings and challenges, particularly in the Ilembe District.
During the Health Monitoring Programme there were some health facilities that functioned well, but others that were experiencing challenges. Some of the key issues highlighted were: limited access to healthcare facilities, lack of adequate personnel and expertise to address medical needs and poor infrastructure. Some facilities do not have the proper resources to handle the medical challenges. Ironically, facilities that are highly equipped, with specialized equipment, do not have enough instruments and personnel in place to execute the tasks or access medical records, and have PPE issues.
The IFP believes that for a healthcare facility to deliver quality care, it should be well-equipped with the right equipment, tools, infrastructure and quality medication, and it should have qualified and experienced staff. These setbacks must be urgently addressed in order to improve the delivery of quality healthcare services during this pandemic.
Poor infrastructure impedes access to health. At most of the clinics that were visited, such as Shakaskraal Clinic, Esidumbini Clinic, Isithebe Clinic and Montebello Hospital, patients in waiting areas did not have shelter. Besides a lack of shelter in the waiting areas, we noted that most healthcare facilities have no capacity to deal with Covid-19 challenges. Shakaskraal Clinic is currently housed in a library and space is limited, which inconveniences and disadvantages local people. We believe that this matter must be addressed urgently. These needs are still going to exist post Covid-19. With the spotlight currently on KZN’s innovative indigenous fight against the Covid-19 virus, the time has come to boost KZN’s healthcare infrastructure and push for greater use of technology in the healthcare sector. To build a robust health system for the future, focusing on KZN’s infrastructure and technology needs, would require emphasising the triple helix model of innovation, i.e. bringing together the government, academia and industry, now more than ever.
We are concerned about the insufficient provision of ambulances for Ntunjambili Hospital, which is serviced by only one ambulance. There is also poor network coverage, which results in hospital officials travelling to Pietermaritzburg for data-capturing. Further, the issue of insufficient accommodation in Umphumulo Hospital has a negative effect on the ability of the hospital to attract more medical staff. This issue must be addressed by building additional accommodation for medical staff.
The IFP recommends that the Department of Health makes use of the infrastructure grant allocated to fix the problems identified in our healthcare facilities. Every health facility and District would have to provide DoH with a plan of every facility where challenges have been identified, and indicate how these should be addressed.
It is concerning that there are some people who continue to disregard the rules of social distancing and wearing a mask. This was evident during the Health Monitoring Programme, as many clinics reported that patients come to clinics and hospitals without wearing masks and do not adhere to social distancing. The IFP suggests that the law must take its course for those who refuse to wear masks.
Such people must not be treated with kid gloves, they must know that the government is serious in preventing the spread of Covid-19. The Covid-19 pandemic is far from over and people need to observe the regulations that are meant to protect them. More awareness-raising must be conducted on a daily basis to educate people about the importance of wearing a mask at all times. Wearing a mask is non-negotiable and this must be enforced.
The issue of staff shortages is of grave concern to the IFP. This was evident in health facilities such as Darnal Clinic, Ntunjambili Hospital and Umphumulo Hospital. The shortage of staff seems to be the greatest challenge for the health sector in KZN. For years, KZN has been faced with an acute shortage of medical professionals. Now they are faced with catering to an immense, unmanageable population during a pandemic. 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, as lack of adequate staff remains a challenge when dealing with Covid-19. Most medical personnel shun public hospitals in favour of privately-run facilities, which are alleged to provide better services and pay better salaries to medical workers. There is an urgent need to address this human resources and staffing issue through a proper policy that will boost the public health sector.
However, lack of serious interest and initiatives, direction, objectives and strong political will continue to lead to a further deterioration of the existing KZN healthcare system. Unless serious attention is paid to revamping and correcting the system, it could continue its downward spiral towards major collapse and catastrophe. Accessible and affordable healthcare for all is an urgent need, particularly for KwaZulu-Natal’s poor.
The much-awaited National Health Insurance program should be carefully rolled out, ensuring that the smallest member of the target population is enrolled and understands what exactly the scheme means. As we get ready to face a future that is full of possibility and uncertainty in equal measure, let us recognise these and other challenges and prepare to meet them. The fight against ill health is the fight against all that is harmful to humanity. However, without addressing healthcare challenges it is impossible for the NHI to succeed. It is the duty of the Department of Health to urgently address all the challenges in healthcare facilities.
I thank you.