Civil society groups threaten to sue Eastern Cape Dept of Health

Civil society groups threaten to sue Eastern Cape Dept of HealthPilani10_A Rural nurse in the eastern cape

Activists from more than 30 civil society organisations have again threatened to take the Eastern Cape Department of Health to court over alleged failure to fix the provincial health services.

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Section27 and others have not set a public deadline by which the department could take action to avoid possible litigation

The organisations – which are part of the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition (ECHCAC) – also plan a mass mobilisation of communities behind their demand for a health service delivery plan.

This follows the failure of the new health MEC, Dr Phumza Dyantyi, to provide the coalition with such a plan, despite being given two months to do so.

The health challenges include medicine, staff and ambulance shortages; no wheelchairs, huge waiting lists for orthopaedic and other operations.

“Commitments to fill vacant nursing posts have not been kept. The provincial department has failed to employ newly trained enrolled nursing assistants and nursing assistants despite the desperate need for them,” the Coalition said in a statement released yesterday.

The coalition has again asked for an urgent meeting with provincial leadership, and warned of court action “to protect the rights, heath and lives of citizens”.

However, coalition member Section27’s John Stephens declined to outline a deadline within which the department should act to avoid litigation.

The ECHAC received communication from new Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle shortly after he entered office. Masualle had requested time for MEC Dyantyi to compile a report of how the coalition’s concerns had been addressed and the drafting of a strategy to address outstanding issues.

More than two months later, Dyantyi has not yet delivered, according to the statement. However, the Eastern Cape Department of Health says moves are being made to address concerns.

New health vehicles delivered, vacancies being fixed – department 

“A lot has been achieved in addressing issues raised by the coalition,” said Eastern Cape Department of Health Spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo. “Going to court might not be the best option given progress and change in political leadership.”

According to Kupelo, the department remains ready to meet with the civil society delegation. He added that Dyantyi recently handed over 167 emergency medical services (EMS), forensic and other vehicles.

“We are always ready to meet any citizens wanting to discuss health of our people,” Kupelo told Health-e News. “Staff shortages have and are being addressed and the new MEC has declared zero tolerance to non-service delivery.”

He added that health facilities could also expect surprise visits from the MEC and senior managers.

“The MEC and senior managers are going to districts and hospitals as part of a rapid response team intervention to assess service delivery levels,” said Kupelo, adding that certain financial and human resources functions have been decentralised away from provincial capital of Bisho to improve efficiencies.

According to Kupelo, Dyantyi has also declared that all posts need to be filled within three months of being vacated. A deputy director general of clinical services has been appointed, while the EMS head position will be re-advertised early next week and other posts within that department have already been filled, he added.

The coalition of more than 30 civil society organisations was born following the September 2013 release of a damning report on provincial health systems by the AIDS lobby group Treatment Action Campaign and Section27.

The report alleged that health facilities were running with half the doctors needed or less and that nurses often carried a patient load more than twice the national average. Hospitals like Mount Frere and Cecilia Makiwane were also alleged to have closed operating theatres or were turning away mothers in need of Caesarean sections.

In March, Health-e News reported stock outs of childhood vaccines in the province’s OR Tambo and Alfred Nzo districts, but citizen medicine monitors working in selected clinics have not recorded stock-outs since then.