A written parliamentary reply to questions by the Democratic Alliance has revealed that 85 staff members within the KwaZulu-Natal department of health (DoH) have amassed a staggering 5,007 days of various forms of incapacity leave during just the past five months.
The reply, signed by KZN health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo on 3 August, states that the figures relate to the period April-August 2018.
According to the MEC:
- 79 staff have been on temporary capacity leave for a period exceeding 30 days, with a combined total of 4,107 days off; and
- Six staff members have been on permanent incapacity leave for 90 days in total while still being paid combined salaries of close to R2 million.
The DA’s Dr Imran Keeka, their KZN spokesperson on health, said on Sunday they were “stunned by this revelation”.
He said the high absenteeism was “no doubt one of the biggest contributors to the failing healthcare system in our province”. He added that it was not acceptable that Dhlomo continued to cite staff shortages as an excuse.
“The problem is not that there aren’t enough staff – it is the fact that so many of them aren’t at work.”
In terms of temporary incapacity leave, the reply revealed that the worst-affected hospitals in the province were:
- Durban’s Prince Mshiyeni Hospital, with nine staff off on temporary incapacity leave for a total of 496 days;
- Mandeni Regional Hospital, with seven such staff who have not reported for duty for a total of 359 days;
- Greytown District Hospital, with five staff who have not worked for 306 days; and
- King Edward Regional Hospital, were there are five staff members who have been absent for a total of 301 days.
The absence of just one staff member at such busy facilities, “let alone the nine as in the case of Prince Mshiyeni”, said Keeka, was going to have a bad ripple effect.
“The result, quite simply, is more work for fewer staff, which has the potential to increase medico-legal claims, overtime work for other staff and ultimately poorer patient care.”
According to the MEC’s reply, each of the temporary capacity leave cases was submitted to the health risk manager and then returned to the department with a recommendation that needed to be implemented within 30 working days. His reply also revealed that service delivery issues were apparently being dealt with by supervisors by rescheduling of rosters and shifts and reprioritising functions.
Despite the DA’s request for the reasons for the absences, the department had failed to provide this information.
“Nor has the number of days off per individual been provided as per the original request, with the department citing confidentiality issues,” said Keeka.
“These are individuals employed by the provincial government, using taxpayers’ money. As far as the DA is concerned they must be held answerable for receiving salaries while not working and for not reporting to work for extended periods, even if this is for illness. The reasons must be made known.
“In a previous reply to parliamentary questions, this information was forthcoming and it was possible to apply sufficient levels of scrutiny. The question is – what is MEC Dhlomo trying to hide?
“For the department to allow this situation to exist on an ongoing basis is unacceptable. It is also not in keeping with good labour law practice and is no doubt affecting good quality patient care.
“It is also disturbing that the MEC did not supply the details of all facilities and only supplied information regarding hospitals. There are around 824 service sites in KZN that employ staff, and it is expected that the information about all of these would have been forthcoming.”
He said that since the details of just a sample of facilities was so staggering, with costs running into millions of rands, “it can only be worse if the whole picture is seen”.
Keeka said it also boded ill for any attempt at implementing a national health insurance scheme.
“Healthcare staff will form the backbone of universal access to healthcare. If there is no decisive intervention in this regard, any attempt to get it going will collapse. As it is, the former pilot sites have performed dismally.”