THE skills crisis at the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex deepened yesterday when three of its most senior doctors resigned.

The contract of a fourth doctor – a cardiologist – has not been renewed.

Those who quit are a surgeon, a urologist and a plastic surgeon.

The complex has now lost 32 doctors since the beginning of the year, while only three doctors were appointed in August.

Livingstone Hospital surgeon Professor Sats Pillay – one of several doctors who defied the department in June to speak on behalf of the heads of the department at the Provincial, Livingstone and Dora Nginza hospitals – handed in his resignation yesterday.

His reasons included increased morbidity and mortality which “I find unethical” to ignore.

The others who resigned are Provincial Hospital plastic surgeon Dr Chris van der Walt and Provincial Hospital urologist Dr Mark Kent.

The contract of Provincial Hospital cardiologist Dr Basil Brown, who joined Pillay in speaking out, was not renewed.

Health MEC Sicelo Gqobana said he would only comment today after he had been properly briefed, saying

“I might end up annoying others.”

Provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the department would do everything in its power to retain the doctors’ services and to try and reinstate Brown.

But he said the doctors were not helping the situation by resigning.

“It is unfortunate to lose doctors. If they were patriotic, they would not resign.

“By resigning, they are worsening the situation,” Kupelo said.

“It is very unfortunate . . . but we are going to attempt to talk with them to see if they won’t reconsider.”

Pillay, who has more than 30 years experience, said the staff shortage had forced his decision.

“I found it absolutely impossible to do my job.

“I am really sad because the Eastern Cape Health Department cannot deliver on their promises of addressing the lack of staff.

“I have now taken a transfer to the Polokwane Hospital.”

In his resignation letter to Livingstone Hospital chief executive Dr Kobus Kotze, which The Herald has seen, Pillay said: “It is with great sadness, disappointment and frustration that I have seen my department decimated and become dysfunctional over the past year.

“This fact, together with the belligerent manner in which management has handled the chief specialist posts, has made me leave the Eastern Cape.

“Private sector is a viable option in Port Elizabeth, but is not my preference.”

The reasons for leaving he gives in the letter are:

  • Current staffing cuts make it near impossible to run a tertiary teaching department;
  • These cuts and staff shortages have resulted in increased morbidity and mortality which “I find unethical to silently ignore”;
  • Service delivery has been severely impacted, which is obviously unconstitutional;
  • All his attempts to obtain promotion had been ignored or thwarted by management and provincial authorities since 2002; and
  • Management intransigence had forced him to seek redress through the Public Health and Social Development Sectorial Bargaining Council. Kotze declined to comment. Van der Walt and Kent could not be reached for comment yesterday, while Brown said he would issue a statement today.

Other department heads, who asked not to be named, said they understood the doctors’ decisions.

“Their resignation is a disaster for the Department of Health,” one said.

“The guys contributed greatly to much-needed healthcare. This is bad news for the department.

“It will be difficult to attract good professionals to the hospitals, particularly if you look at the way the Department of Health has treated their staff in the last 12 months.”

Another department head said: “There seems to be a meltdown of healthcare services in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro region.”

He added: “I wish they would not go, but we understand their reasons. They cannot keep on working under such conditions.”

A third doctor said the writing had been on the wall as the “doctors have been working like slaves for a long time now and the department has not done anything” about staff shortages.

And he warned: “I would not be surprised if more doctors resigned.”

DA MPL John Cupido said: “The department needs to stop making promises and deliver because the staff shortage is something they have been promising to look at for months now.”