R19BN BACKLOG CRIPPLES HEALTH: DAILY DISPATCH

THE Eastern Cape department of health faces a massive R19-billion infrastructure and maintenance backlog that is slowly crippling service delivery in the province.

The figure has reportedly ballooned over the past five years and the decline continues with the widespread neglect of already aging and failing public healthcare centres.

A senior official in the department admitted yesterday that many clinics and hospitals had deteriorated so badly it would be better to “bulldoze” them and start afresh.

This was revealed during a heated question-and-answer session between the provincial legislature’s health portfolio committee and the administration arm of the department in Bhisho yesterday.

In the 2010/2011 financial year, almost 70% of construction work under way at public healthcare facilities in the Eastern Cape had to be carried over to the new fiscal year.

Adding to the worsening neglect, the facilities development and maintenance programme (FDMP) failed to spend R535-million from its financial plan during the past fiscal year.

From April 2010 to March 2011, the department’s eight programmes failed to spend a total of R569m of its allocated R13-billion budget.

According to a committee’s analysis of the annual report, spending trends show the FDMP failed to use 38% of its R1.4-billion budget. Now the FDMP is expected to be dragged before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) next week to explain the massive R19bn backlog.

Reasons cited for the unfinished construction across the province were: Delays in procurement processes; Late payments of contractors, resulting in many moving off site;

Non-performing contractors the appointment of incompetent and

Emerging contractors not having the financial capacity to complete the and contractors; work.

The head of the local authority’s infrastructure unit, Mlamli Thuso, said the backlog reflected poor planning by not only health but also the department of roads and public works.

“Maintenance has been a problem for years but pumping money in has also proved ineffective,” he said. “The department is battling with sanitation and roads, which has halted the development in many rural areas.”

Thuso admitted the backlog showed the department was struggling to maintain its 800 facilities across the province and needed urgent assistance.

Deputy director-general for clinical services Nomalanga Makwedini said: “Some of the medical centres need to be bulldozed outright. I mean, you visit some of these clinics and you can actually look through holes from one side to the other.”

According to documents handed out during the meeting: “In some instances, it has become evident the department has over-committed itself to more projects. The department experiences serious cost pressure in the compensation of employees, and other critical drivers like blood, food and drugs … this has necessitated a reprioritisation process [of funds].”

Portfolio committee acting chairwoman Viola Mtongana called for the department to compile a list of projects affected by the backlog and those needing urgent attention. “Demand is growing among sick patients. Already it will take years to clear this backlog. The department should even look to national for assistance.”

DA health spokesman and MPL John Cupido described the backlog as “ridiculous”. “After years of neglect it becomes more expensive to maintain [these] health centres but prices are going up and it will finally become exorbitant. ” He said it would take at least a decade to clear the backlog, adding that “only then will we be able to further healthcare in the province for the rollout of national health insurance”. — michaelk@dispatch.co.za