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Our Opinion Daily dispatch, by Eddie Botha.


2009/04/29

Other side of the coin

IT IS right that the 336 striking doctors at George Mukhari Hospital outside Pretoria and Jubilee Hospital in North West received letters of dismissal over a work stoppage, which centred on grievances over pay and working conditions. Doctors and nurses perform essential medical services and the refusal by the doctors to work – despite a Labour Court interdict forbidding them to strike – has indirectly been blamed for the death of at least one patient. It’s inexcusable and can never be condoned.

The remuneration issues blamed for the strike formed part of government’s Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD), a grading structure based on competencies, experience and performances. The Health Department developed an OSD to improve pay and working conditions. It rolled this out for nurses over the past 18 months, but doctors were still waiting for their OSD.

But the department is also at fault. SA Medical Association’s Dr Phophi Ramathuba said earlier that despite a successful meeting with the department to initiate negotiations with the bargaining council, the problem was mainly due to delays by the department . Health spokesperson Fidel Radebe also acknowledged that the department made mistakes last year when the OSD for nurses was implemented.

At Cecilia Makiwane’s Mental Health Unit, nurses who had been excluded from the extra pay twice went on strike over the same issue and the matter has not been resolved yet despite promises by the hospital complex. During those strikes the doctors at the unit performed duties normally done by the nursing staff. They did so under tremendous work pressure.

Yesterday we reported that mental health care in Buffalo City lagged far behind government’s national target norm. According to a recent UCT Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health study, mental health services and human resources are limited across SA with 0.28 psychiatrists, 0.45 other medical doctors, 10.08 nurses, 0.32 psychologists, 0.4 social workers, and 0.13 occupational therapists per 100000 people. There are 41 psychiatric inpatient units in general hospitals in the country with a total of 2.8 beds per 100000 people. For SA’s over 40 million population, there are only 23 public mental hospitals, providing 18 beds per 100000 people – only 1% of these beds were reserved for children and adolescents – and the number of mental hospital beds has decreased by 7.7% in the past five years.

“Far too often critically suicidal patients have to wait for hours to be admitted and often they are turned away due to lack of space,” says SA Depression & Anxiety Group director Zane Wilson.

Only government can solve this problem.

 

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