North West health on its knees due to strike

File photo. For illustrative purposes.

Strikers have been intercepting delivery trucks and simple things like gloves, suture kits, syringes and needles are now out of stock.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa, Health & Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa and the Young Communist League of South Africa yesterday promised to combine their strengths and bring the entire North West health department to a grinding halt.

“Over a period of time we have marched and held meetings with the management and political leaders of these two departments wherein we raised alarms around the gigantic appetite displayed by these departments for corruption, in particular the department of health,” said Patrick Makhafane, Motlalepule Ramafoko, Lindiwe Matsipe and Tsietsi Letsebe in a combined statement.

The unions are taking the North West government to task over perceived corruption in the department and, to a large degree, have shut down medical services to communities by going on a go-slow at pharmaceutical depots.

And while talks between unions and government have been happening, not much has been happening elsewhere.

“The last meeting was last week Friday; there was no agreement or a settlement so both parties after a proposal by the department agreed on external mediation,” said North West health spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane.

“It was supposed to resume yesterday; however, we understand there is a team of three MEC’s appointed by the premier to try to come up with a political solution to the strike and to engage Nehawu,” Lekgethwane said on Friday.

It did not mean the external mediation was necessarily cancelled, he noted.

Lekgethwane said the department was trying to make deliveries, but strikers were intercepting the trucks.

Using police to protect deliveries was one of the plans, Lekgethwane said, adding there were “a number of plans” around what could be done to protect deliveries and in some cases the nurses, who were being threatened.

However, while politicians and labour unions flapped their gums at each other, strategised, planned and missed meetings, set meetings a week apart and pointed fingers, communities remained at risk.

The Citizen has seen a list of zero stock medicines at one provincial depot that supplies up to eight other facilities/clinics.

It lists a total of 258 critical medicines and medical supplies critical to the health of patients and medical staff.

Simple things like gloves, suture kits, syringes and needles, sterile water, nebuliser masks, sterilisation bags, umbilical cord clamps, and sterilising solution are all out of stock.

Critical basic medicines such as various penicillins; HIV tests and antiretrovirals; human papillomavirus, polio, rotavirus and tetanus vaccines; insulin; basic painkillers; and Ringers Lactate drip bags – also all zero stock.

Yesterday the Stop Stock Outs project (SSP) said the national department of health should work with provincial authorities to get medical supplies to clinics and hospitals, while unions and strikers have to allow access to the medicines within the depot for their distribution.

“SSP can confirm that antiretrovirals used to treat HIV in adults and children are not available,” said SSP project manager Glenda Muzenda.

“Immunisation of children below nine months of age has been cancelled in some clinics, due to insufficient supply. Patient reports of stock outs have led to SSP being able to confirm that at least five clinics have closed their gates.”

The union representatives said the NW health department was already in trouble before the current “labour impasse”.

“It was already confronted by challenges of lack of medication in health institutions, lack of linen and bedding in health institutions, lack of and sometimes no proper meals for admitted patients in public health institutions, lack of medical equipment, overstretched and overworked staff as a result of staff shortages, and premature deaths of patients, young and old alike, due to the incompetency of the Buthelezi Emergency Services,” they stated.

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