16/07/2018 10:34 SAST | Updated 16/07/2018 10:34 SAST

Mpumalanga Department Of Health Latest In List Of Troubled Provincial Departments

The health department is the latest to run into serious financial trouble.

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The health department in Mpumalanga is the latest provincial health department to be hit with a massive financial crisis, impacting on its ability to fill vacant posts and causing it millions of rands worth of negligence claims, according to City Press.

The department joins a growing list of provincial health departments on the verge of collapse. With just 17 percent of the population on private medical aid, millions of people rely on public healthcare. But several of the country's provincial health departments are in crisis.

According to City Press, Mpumalanga's health department can't afford to pay for medicine or fill vacant posts, and its debt has ballooned to R1-billion. The provincial health MEC, Refilwe Mtshweni, was reportedly removed last week in a cabinet reshuffle and moved to the department of public works.

About 88 percent of Mpumalanga's population depend on public health, City Press reported, adding that the DA wants the department put under administration.

Departmental spokesperson Dumisani Malamule told City Press that task teams have been appointed to review the situation, and said that steps had been taken to reduce the department's debt. The department had also received more money, he said, after it was found that the debt was partly because the department only received about 27 percent of the total provincial budget.

Negligence claims against the department by patients have reached R70-million, and there are reportedly 2,524 vacant posts across the province that the department cannot afford to fill.

According to a report seen by City Press, there are about eight doctors per 100,000 people in the province's Ehlanzeni district, with its population of 1.7-million. In total, there are just over 10,000 healthcare professionals, 1,074 doctors, 79 medical specialists, 8,594 nurses, 300 pharmacist and 131 dental practitioners in the province of 3.9-million people.

The North West department of health was placed under administration in April.

The department will take about 18 months to rebuild, if extra resources are provided, Business Day reported.

Presenting a turnaround plan earlier this month, the department's administrator Jeanette Hunter said healthcare in the province had not collapsed completely, but there were administrative problems, according to Eyewitness News (EWN).

She outlined the problems faced by the department:

"[Firstly,]I'm going to put poor financial management and poor supply chain management as one. Secondly, poor people management. The protest that happened is a sign of people saying we've had enough of wanting to be good health workers under bad conditions."

In Gauteng, the department has wrestled with serious financial difficulties for years. A Special Investigating Unit report revealed how officials spent departmental money on luxury spa treatments and corruption between 2006 and 2009, Mail & Guardian reported. The corruption is estimated to exceed R1-billion.

Hospitals in the province were brought to a standstill by healthcare workers — who went on the rampage, trashing hospitals and causing millions of rands in damages — over unpaid bonuses. According to TimesLive, Gauteng health MEC Gwen Ramakgopa said the department is struggling to fill key posts like the head of department, and said more resources from National Treasury had been requested to settle old debt.

The KwaZulu-Natal health department has a serious oncology crisis. At the beginning of February, the province had only two oncologists in public hospitals and three cancer machines, Mail & Guardian reported. Public-sector patients in the province reportedly wait for five months on average to see an oncologist, and another eight months for treatment. This is according to a 2016 report by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

Then in July, the DA revealed that there is a backlog of 8,201 patients on a waiting list for cataract surgery in the province, according to TimesLive.