THE cash-strapped Eastern Cape department of health is in the midst of a critical medical staffing shortage, with the provincial authority needing an additional R9-billion a year to fill the void.
If the health department managed to fill the 27 267 vacant posts this year it would cost more than half of its 2012-2013 budget of R15.1-billion. The worst affected is the professional nursing sector, with the shortage making up half the vacancies in the province.
An additional R6.5billion is needed to close the gap.
The alarming figures come from the government’s human resource system [Persal] and the National Treasury’s database. The government report – leaked to the Daily Dispatch – includes all vacancies in the country’s nine provinces. The report reveals a nationwide staffing crisis and places the Eastern Cape as the second worst in the country.
The province only lags behind Limpopo, which has a R14-billion shortage from 39 653 vacant posts.
Opposition parties said yesterday the report showed the public health care system in the Eastern Cape was on the verge of collapse. Asked about the report yesterday, superintendent-general of the Eastern Cape health department Siva Pillay said: “The existing health care platform in the province is unsustainable with the current funding available.
“The vacancy rate is shocking and we are struggling to resolve it.”
The staff shortage comes at a time when the department’s budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year was sliced by R424-million, in comparison to its revised 2011-2012 spending plan.
The health boss said the vastness of the province coupled with the new budget meant the department would struggle to fill the posts.
“At the moment we are not able to afford the complete revitalisation of the system. We are stuck at a bad place,” Pillay said.
On a national level – including the Eastern Cape – 106 518 posts are vacant across South Africa’s nine provinces with an employment price tag of R38-billion a year.
Professional nurses also top the country’s shortfall list with 44 780 vacancies, at a cost of R17-billion required to fill the deficit.
The DA’S shadow MEC of Health, John Cupido, said the vacancy rate – if not halted – would cripple the province’s public health care system. “Health care is degenerating at an alarming rate. A turn around plan is needed more than ever,” he said.
Vacancy rates of critical posts in Eastern Cape state hospitals have also doubled in the past financial year from 28% in the 2009-2010 financial year to 44% in the 2010-2011 fiscal, according to an auditor-general report. And the shocking staff shortage comes at a time when the government is in the midst of rolling out its controversial National Health Insurance scheme.
COPE MPL Mbulelo Ntenjwa questioned how the department even managed to deliver health care with the high vacancies.
“All these backlogs are becoming worse.
“That department needs a complete overhaul with a political leader capable of managing it,” he said.
The vacant professional nursing posts in the Eastern Cape are followed by medical practitioners and specialists with a combined total of 1 224, costing just over R1-billion.
Nursing assistants, staff nurses and pupil nurses are also severely lacking in the province. Both the DA and COPE said the high vacancy rate was a result of the department’s inability to develop, attract and retain medical practitioners, who are crucial in keeping hospitals afloat.
The ANC’S chairman for the provincial health committee, Mxolisi Dimaza, said the department’s core function was health care and the vacancies needed to be addressed to fulfil its mandate.
“If there is not enough money the department must compile an audit report and submit it to the committee so we can fight for the budget to be revised later this year,” he said.
The disclosure of the report follows scathing remarks by health MEC Sicelo Gqobana last month when he lamented the massive failure by his department to supply enough doctors and other critical personnel at rural hospitals.
Health department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo, said yesterday: “The department operates like a big head with a thin body. We tend to focus on management posts and not core staff. But is changing with our turnaround plan.”
National health spokesman Fidel Hadebe could not be reached for comment. — michaelk@dispatch.