Speech Notes: Health Portfolio Committee Report and Budget 2020/2021

Issued by Jane Cowley, MPL
Shadow MEC for Health

Madam Speaker, Honourable Premier, Honourable Members of the House, officials and observers, I greet you all

I wish to start by sending my heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those we have lost to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Madam Speaker, our department of health is in the ICU. The leadership is incapable of implementing house resolutions, and has failed to fully implement plans. The Committee report highlights several repeat findings, and I shall mention just a few:

  • The Provincialisation plan – incomplete. This process began in 2012.
  • Medico-legal recovery plan – incomplete. There is still no legal unit established in the OTP.
  • Mental Health report on the implementation of the administrator’s recommendations: Yet to be submitted after almost one full year.
  • Lilitha College report on alleged corruption and maladministration in the sector: Yet to be submitted.
  • The payment of clinic committees in Chris Hani district: still incomplete, after nearly one year.
  • The Emergency Medical Services organogram and overtime debacle remains unresolved.
  • Installation of the Catheterisation Lab at Provincial hospital: incomplete, since October 2018.

Madam Speaker all these failures have impacted very negatively on healthcare delivery and are costing lives – the lives of the people that this government swore to improve.

The response of the HOD to these failures was to create even more posts in the bureaucratic echelons of the department, which has left a scant 33% of the total budget for service delivery.

Madam Speaker, this was the status quo before the Covid-19 pandemic came along. If the Premier truly understood the dire state of health in this province, he would have recalled the services of both the MEC and the HOD and replaced them with capable, effective and responsive leaders to breathe life back into the department. He would not have had to look very far, because there are such people in the system. Instead, the Premier chose political patronage over the welfare of his people.

Now Madam Speaker, when a global pandemic rips through the world, leaving nothing but devastation in its wake, people want something or somebody to blame. The truth is simple – nobody, no country, can be blamed for a biological phenomenon such as Covid-19.

However, as public representatives we must critically analyse our provincial response to this pandemic, for the simple reason that we must learn from our mistakes as there will be pandemics in the future.

Unsurprisingly, the response of the Health department has been shambolic. The pattern repeats itself – beautifully crafted plans in abundance, with precious little implementation.

The words of Florence Nightingale epitomise the culture of accountability government must develop if ever we are to create a life of value for our people.  She said, and I quote, I attribute my success to this: I never gave, nor took, any excuse. (Repeat)

There is no excuse for the fact that daily statistics and the Data dashboard have not been made available to CEO’s of hospitals across the province and to the public. Information is knowledge and early awareness of developing clusters would allow for a targeted, and thus more effective, response.

There is no excuse for hospital CEO’s to not have access to the EMS service when required, as this would speed up turnaround times and save lives.

There is no excuse for the ongoing shortages of Personal Protective Equipment in the province. It turns out that there is plenty of PPE, but get rich quick schemes have allegedly hijacked the supply chain, while our heroes, our frontline staff who work in the coalface of this pandemic, are not suitably protected.

Staff at Frontier in eKomani are forced to buy their own sanitiser, while staff at Tower hospital are forced to use disposable masks for a whole week. It is no wonder that our frontline workers have the highest infection rates in the country, leaving hospitals with skeleton staff who work in a state of terror that they will be next. Psychosocial support at Frontier hospital consists of one social worker.

Madam Speaker, innovation and new technologies must be used to assist in the fight against Covid-19. Research has proven that dogs can be trained to pick up the scent of a Covid positive patient immediately. These dogs are capable of screening up to 200 people per hour. Imagine the relief this could bring to frontline workers!

In the Western Cape a Bed Bureau system manages patient bed occupation and a Red Dot taxi service safely transports all frontline workers. IN Khayelitsha the turnaround time for a covid test is 6 hours. This is why Cape has been ranked 79th out of 1000 City’s in world for its Covid-19 response.

Innovation is NOT ancient tricycles disguised as ambulances. In what looked like a scene from a Leon Schuster movie, the MEC cruised the Buffalo City esplanade in a motorised pram which will supposedly improve healthcare delivery. Drone technology for delivery of meds needs no roads, is cost effective and belongs in the 21st century. Newly painted old prams do not.

Quote “I attribute my success to this: I never gave, nor took excuses.” Unquote.

There is no excuse for the fact that the district field hospitals have been planned for four months, but are yet to be built. They will theoretically be ready by the end of October, two months after the peak of the pandemic strikes in the province.

There is no excuse that a massive drive to recruit more medical staff was only advertised last week. The brand new field hospital which was opened to great fanfare in Nelson Mandela Bay last week had 1300 beds ready on Wednesday, but the department could at that point only provide two doctors.

There is no excuse that the department has made absolutely no plans to address accruals of R3,18 billion rand. There is no excuse for the “slothful” approach of the MEC and the HOD to litigation against the department, as stated by the Mthatha High Court yesterday.

There is no excuse that the provincial government will adopt a budget that does not address the needs of a department that is factually bankrupt. And there is no excuse for allowing this vital sector to collapse under incompetent cadres.

The Democratic Alliance works tirelessly to deliver services that add value to the lives of citizens where we govern.

Until this department values the life of makhulu who slept on the ground outside Cala hospital in the middle of winter, until they value the life of a distressed pregnant woman on a hospital floor and until they value the life of her unborn child, they will continue to fail the people of this province.

The Democratic Alliance accepts the excellent report, but wholeheartedly rejects the health budget in its current format.