#PhophiMustFall: Nurses trade union calls for Limpopo Health MEC’s removal

#PhophiMustFall: Nurses trade union calls for Limpopo Health MEC’s removalLimpopo MEC for Health Dr Phophi Ramathuba. (Photo Credit: GCIS/ Elvis Tshikhudo)

Nursing unions are concerned by staff shortages, crumbling healthcare infrastructure and more, but the Limpopo Department of Health maintains that there’s no crisis in the province.

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Calling Limpopo health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba “incompetent” and “causing havoc in Limpopo provincial health”, the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU) seeks to take the provincial health department to task for what they call a crisis in Limpopo’s public healthcare system.

YNITU calls for Ramathuba to step down as part of the trade union’s radical mandate. The nurses union works on the rights of nurses, which includes eradicating dilapidated hospitals and clinics that some nurses work from, prioritising nurse’s safety and mental health, and addressing a shortage of nurses in the province’s public health facilities. 

However, the Provincial Department of Health in Limpopo has labelled the calls for the removal of the MEC by YNITU as unfortunate and irresponsible, saying the organisation uses the MEC as political leverage to gain legitimacy and visibility in Limpopo. 

‘We are fed up’

Lerato Madumo, president of YNITU, says they have had enough with the escalating problems at public health facilities in Limpopo, and lays the blame squarely on the Health MEC’s shoulders. 

“We are fed up with what’s happening in Limpopo public health under the leadership of the current MEC. We want the immediate removal of Dr Phophi Ramathuba from office, as she has proved to the province that she is incompetent. She causes havoc in provincial health — with detrimental outcomes to the poorest of the poor and the nursing profession,” she explains. 

According to Madumo, YNITU recently handed over a memorandum of their grievances to the Ministry of Health, after the local department of health failed to provide a senior official to collect the document. 

Some of the demands listed by the organisation, amongst others, include the hiring of nurses, ending the outsourcing of healthcare workers and the removal of Limpopo Health MEC. 

Madumo says that the shortage of nurses in the province is an issue the government has yet to fix, as many vacant posts are left unappointed. She also elaborated on some of the other pressing issues that YNITU advocates for.

“For quite some time, we have pleaded with the department of health to hire midwives and advanced midwives in maternity facilities because without adequate nursing personnel, allied workers and support staff, 24-hour clinics should cease to exist,” she tells Health-e

“Our nurses deal with trauma daily, and this affects them on all levels, but the Limpopo department of health doesn’t seem to care. We also want the department to prioritise the safety of nurses, and when there’s incidences at public healthcare facilities to stop blaming nurses without any prior investigation of reported cases of misconduct and negligence,” she adds.

Lesiba Monyaki, provincial chairperson of Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA), says they have raised various issues with the provincial health department for years but no one seems to care — and nurses are the ones left to suffer. 

“Our nurses are not safe at public clinics and hospitals, and we have pleaded with the department of health to consider installing electric fences, as they have failed to beef up security personnel. If you go to some of our rural clinics you will be shocked to find only two security personnel on duty, which isn’t enough considering how several criminal incidents have occurred at public healthcare facilities,” he says.

DENOSA’s concerns with the state of public healthcare in Limpopo dovetail with YNITU’s demands and both organisations are frustrated with the lack of response or action from the local department of health.

Monyaki further says: “We have grown tired of talking about our issues, as nothing is done to address the situation.”

“Only clinics which are situated along the main roads are renovated, but the rest — in deep rural areas — are left old and dilapidated. No one seems to care, putting the lives of both patients and nurses in danger. We have so many qualified nurses who are unemployed, but ironically, the department is still experiencing a severe shortage of nurses at its hospitals and clinics.”

Claims made are baseless

Although YNITU demands are supported by Limpopo DENOSA, the local department of health takes a dim view of the list of concerns. The spokesperson for the Limpopo Department of Health, Neil Shikwambana, says the province is not facing any form of crisis. 

Responding to demands by YNITU, Shikwambana says: “We feel that the union is trying to gain legitimacy and fame in Limpopo by riding on the back of the MEC. On what grounds do they base their call, because the MEC has actually done well in this department. Under MEC Ramathuba, maternal deaths have been reduced drastically, malaria cases have been lowered, and hospitals are functioning under her leadership.”

He further says: “The vacancy rate for nurses in the province is standing at 33%, which means that where we are supposed to have ten nurses, we have seven. Is that a crisis?

But activists argue it’s people who suffer the most from these shortages.

In June, the provincial health department let go of approximately 540 health professionals who have received funding from the provincial health department, including medical doctors, professional nurses, pharmacists and allied health professionals. 

“The Limpopo health department has under half (47%, that is, 33,848 of the 63,460 posts) of the personnel it requires to function effectively,” social justice organisations wrote.

“Typical rhetoric would lay blame on the economic recession and austerity measures taken by state departments. However, we should be wary of austerity being the catch-all net for all decisions that fail to meet the Constitutional standard envisioned in section 27 of the Constitution.

The province is doing its best to fill open vacancies, Shikwambana says.

“We continue adding numbers in the nursing profession but in different categories. That’s why, in recently advertised posts, we have a vacancy for specialist nurse, and in terms of infrastructure, we’re maintaining and renovating our old infrastructure since we can’t build new facilities at the moment.” – Health-e News