NO BAILOUT FOR HEALTH: DAILY DISPATCH

THE Eastern Cape department of health has failed to secure the R1.1-billion bailout it needs to maintain services at current levels.

There was no mention of the bailout at yesterday’s provincial legislature in Bhisho, where the department’s original 2012/2013 budget was tabled and accepted.

The much talked about bailout formed no part of the health portfolio committee’s report, and was not even mentioned by health MEC Sicelo Gqobana.

This year the embattled department received R15.1-billion for the 2012/2013 fiscal year, which amounts to a R424-million cut from the revised 2011/2012 budget.

Medical fraternities across South Africa warned the insufficient budget was crippling the public health care system in the province.

But the department, which admitted urgent assistance was needed to avert disaster, will now be forced to work within the current reduced budget.

Health met the provincial treasury last week in a last-ditch effort to motivate for a bailout.

The Daily Dispatch has learnt that much of the budget pressure comes from unfunded mandates imposed by the intergovernmental fiscal relations (IGFR) system coupled with the R424-million sliced off last year’s total.

The IGFR system operates with the national government setting the policies, while the provinces have to implement them. The department needed the R1.1-billion bailout to service an overdraft that was not covered by the treasury.

Without it, the department’s effective budget for the current year would be reduced by that amount.

The decreased baseline led to R492-million being unfunded for the occupational specific dispensation (OSD) and R125-million being unfunded for pay progression, among other shortfalls.

Apart from the 2012/13 budget burden, the department needs an additional R9-billion to fill 27 000 critical vacancies in the Eastern Cape and has a R19-billion infrastructure backlog.

The department is already suffering, with a new haematology unit, opened only weeks ago in Port Elizabeth, remaining empty as there is no money to employ staff.

Addressing the legislature, the DA’s shadow health MEC, MPL John Cupido, said: “I strongly urge the chairman of the committee to lead by example and call for the complete overhaul of the budget.”

He said the health budget needed to be completely reworked and increased by at least R3-billion.

“It does not take a financial genius to see where this department is heading. I cannot find it in my heart to support this budget.”

Meanwhile, the DA picketed outside the embattled department’s headquarters in Bhisho yesterday morning.

The rolling picket – scheduled till Friday – was led by DA shadow minister of health and MP Patricia Kopane.

A memorandum of demands was handed over to corporate strategy deputy director-general Dr Thabo Sibeko.

The memorandum included the call for an uninterrupted supply of medication and an adequate number of doctors and nurses for the public healthcare system.

Kopane said the party was picketing to highlight the problems plaguing the department.

“While there is no easy solution the DA realises the department needs a bailout,” she said. “But the money needs to be utilised and not squandered.”

Doctors in Mthatha downed stethoscopes on Monday to get attention from the government about non-payment of salaries, with some defaults dating back to December.

The lunchtime picket at Mthatha Hospital Complex saw over half the institution’s doctors protest against the department’s failure to pay them.

Provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said yesterday the department has made headway in paying medical staff.

“The department will be paying stipends to 3 616 community health care workers and salaries of 260 other staff members, including doctors. They will get the money on Thursday [tomorrow],” he said.

The late payment comes after the provincial treasury ordered the health department to freeze all new appointments and put a “moratorium” on hiring new staff without authorisation from the provincial treasury.

This indirectly led to almost 7 000 community health workers, community service pharmacists, doctors and nurses not receiving April salaries.

During this fiscal year, Kupelo said budget pressure from accruals and OSD payments had caused over-expenditure on the salary budget.

He said the remaining unpaid health workers would be paid next week as the process continued. — Additional reporting by Mayibongwe Maqhina