NEWS & ANALYSIS

DoH staffers ‘off sick’ for more than 5 000 days in five months - DA KZN

Imran Keeka says high absenteeism has a ripple effect across the system

KZN’s Health staffers ‘off sick’ for more than 5 000 days in five months

A written parliamentary reply (view here) to questions by the Democratic Alliance has revealed that 85 staff within the KwaZulu-Natal’s Department of Health (DoH) have amassed a staggering 5 007 days of various forms of incapacity leave during the past five months.

The reply, signed by KZN Health MEC, Sibongiseni Dhlomo, on 3 August 2018, states that the figures relate to the period April – August 2018. According to the MEC:

79 staff have been on temporary capacity leave for a period exceeding 30 days, with a combined total of 4 107 days off and

Six staff members have been on permanent incapacity leave for 90 days in total while still being paid combined salaries of close to R2million.

The DA is stunned by this revelation which is no doubt one of the biggest contributors to the failing healthcare system in our province. This while MEC Dhlomo continues to cite staff shortages as an excuse. The problem is not that there aren’t enough staff – it is the fact that so many of them aren’t at work.

In terms of temporary incapacity leave, the reply reveals that the worst affected hospitals in the province are:

Durban’s Prince Mshiyeni Hospital with nine staff off on temporary incapacity leave for a total of 496 days;

Mandeni Regional Hospital with seven such staff who have not reported for duty for a total of 359 days;

Greytown District Hospital with five staff who have not worked for 306 days; and

King Edward Regional Hospital there are five staff who have been absent for a total of 301 days.

These are all very busy hospitals which serve thousands of people. The absence of just one staff member – let alone the nine as in the case of Prince Mshiyeni – is going to have a ripple effect. The result, quite simply, is more work for less staff that has the potential to increase medico-legal claims, overtime work for other staff and ultimately poorer patient care.

According to the reply, each of the temporary capacity leave cases is submitted to the Health Risk Manager and then returned to the Department with a recommendation which must be implemented within 30 working days. The reply also states that service delivery issues are apparently being dealt with by supervisors by rescheduling of rosters and shifts and reprioritising functions ‘leaning to service delivery imperatives etc’.

Despite the DA’s request for the reasons for absence, the Department has failed to provide this information. Nor has the number of days off per individual been provided as per the original request, with the Department citing confidentiality issues.

These are individuals employed by the provincial government, using taxpayers’ money. As far as the DA is concerned they must be held answerable for receiving salaries while not working and for not reporting to work for extended periods, even if this is for illness. The reasons must be made known.

In a previous reply to parliamentary questions this information was forthcoming and it was possible to apply sufficient levels of scrutiny. The question is - what is MEC Dhlomo trying to hide?

For the Department to allow this situation to exist on an ongoing basis is unacceptable. It is also not in keeping with good labour law practice and is no doubt affecting good quality patient care.

It is also disturbing that the MEC did not supply the details of all facilities and only supplied information regarding hospitals. There are around 824 service sites in KZN that employ staff and it is expected that the information about all of these would have been forthcoming.

If the details of a sample of facilities is so staggering and which cost runs into millions of rands, it can only be worse if the whole picture is seen.

Healthcare staff will form the backbone of Universal Access to healthcare. If there is no decisive intervention in this regard, any attempt to get it going will collapse. As it is, the former pilot sites have performed dismally.

The DA expects that MEC Dhlomo will respond to our follow up questions to gain a true picture of the cost of incapacity leave and the impact on patient care in KZN and that he will be forthcoming with this information, rather than behaving like an apartheid era spy, trying to hide what should be public knowledge.

The DA is committed to an open opportunity society for all based of freedom, fairness, opportunity and diversity for all South Africans.

Statement issued by Dr Imran Keeka MPL, DA KZN Spokesperson on Health, 12 August 2018