Yesterday (subs: Monday, 25 June 2012) several doctors of the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex held a press conference regardless of threats of disciplinary action by the EC DoH, to voice their grave concerns over their working conditions and excessive critical medical vacancies (“Rebel doctors’ hospital rescue plan”, The Herald, 26 June). To date, the MEC and Department have shown no interest in resolving the serious concerns raised by the doctors, but have instead tried their best to bully them into silence.

In any organisation, when staff are willing to put their jobs on the line to complain about working and service delivery conditions one cannot deny that things may have hit rock bottom. Being part of the medical fraternity is usually as a result of a calling of sorts, so it is fully understandable as to why the doctors concerned have “defied” the DoH by making these issues public as part of their oath to the community to give quality treatment and health care. They should be lauded for putting people first.

With the department having a vacancy rate of over 44%, equating to over 27 000 critical clinical staff vacancies, of which over 16 000 are for Professional Nurses, the situation at the PE Hospital Complex has been a long time coming, and is a clear indicator of what is happening in the rest of the Eastern Cape.

The departmental spokesperson, Sizwe Kupelo, will undoubtedly allude to the cash crisis that has hit the department two months into the financial year, resulting in the Office of the Premier and the Provincial Treasury taking over the Human Resources and Supply Chain Management functions respectively.

They admit to the cash crisis, yet, not more than a month ago, the ANC-led full House of the Provincial Legislature, with the exception of the Democratic Alliance (DA) supported a decreased annual EC DoH budget of R15.1billion. The DA refuses to support a severely inadequate budget, and our warnings of subsequent systematic departmental failures are sadly becoming realised every day.

The current budget needs to be completely reworked and boosted by at least R3 billion just to see this financial year through. A further R6 billion will be needed to fill the severe critical medical staff vacancies to ensure that there are enough clinical staff to treat the sick in this province.

If that is ever granted, a further R6 billion will be needed to even start working down the infrastructure backlog of R19.2 billion, ignored by the political powers-that-be.

It is unrealistic to expect that the ANC will put the care of patients first and double the EC DoH’s budget to R30 billion, so it has clearly become realistic to expect things to become far, far worse medically in the Eastern Cape.

It is imperative that the Portfolio Committee on Health immediately meets with the doctors and other staff of the PE Hospital Complex to investigate, and make strong, time-based demands to rectify the concerns raised, and hold the MEC and department to account for not having their priorities straight in putting the people first in health care service delivery here in the Eastern Cape.