LIMPOPO Health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba is no spin doctor, but a medico who appears to have no appetite for sugar-coating the predicaments that often make her department short change the poor who rely on public hospitals.
In an exclusive interview with African Times at her office in Polokwane, she acknowledged a host of problems bedeviling the Limpopo Department of Health, but said she was addressing them.
The province is known for having problems such as dilapidated infrastructure; huge backlogs; abusive staff; shortage of doctors; financial mismanagement and ineffective IT systems.
The department was among the five placed under administration by President Jacob Zuma in 2011 due to tender irregularities, system failures and financial mismanagement.
Dr Ramathuba says they need more doctors and nurses, but it’s not easy to attract the best because Limpopo is largely rural.
“Many nurses and doctors are not keen on working in rural areas because they find the conditions unattractive. Even the doctors we sponsored as the department, they are still not willing to work in their own province upon their return from Cuba,” Dr Ramathuba said.
“However, the department’s recruitment and retention strategy is under review in order to address this challenge.”
The MEC said the solution lied in the province’ newly established University of Limpopo medical school, as well as the re-opening of nursing schools.
“The school will go a long way not only in increasing the number of doctors trained in the province. The department has committed R10 million in bursaries to the first cohort of medical students” she said.
Despite the province having procured ambulances, Dr Ramathuba said there was still skills shortage regarding intermediate life support, advance life support and emergency care practitioners.
“I am pleased to announce that the EMS [Emergency Medical Service] College which was not operational for some time will be reactivated and be operational during this financial year. We have already appointed a principal.”
Dr Ramathuba says the department will invest in infrastructure development to improve services and alleviate current backlogs.
This includes the construction of 13 clinics that were deferred during the 2011/12 financial year when the department was under administration.
She said: “Among the clinics are the three in Homulani, Nkomo and Tshikundamalema. In our concerted effort to address the challenge of the dilapidating infrastructure, the department has refurbished 58 health facilities in the previous financial year and we will continue to rehabilitate others.”
The MEC says her department has resolved to in-source some of the departmental responsibilities like laundry and kitchen services.
This appears to be a bid to curb multi-million rand tender irregularities that have dogged the department in recent years.
In 2014, patients were forced to wear private clothes or dirty hospital garments after various service providers contracted to provide hospital laundry services failed to deliver.
“Our plan to in-source laundry is at an advanced stage. Our plan is to rearrange the laundry facilities into district hubs” Dr Ramathuba added.
She said Limpopo has invested in Information Communication and Technology Infrastructure and the Provincial Health Information System.
However, she said, the previous investment in telemedicine system has yielded no dividends.
Dr Ramathuba said: “There is still no value for money because we do not achieve the intended goals. In this financial year, we plan to revitalise our ICT infrastructure to enable us to manage the EMS fleet tracking which will assist us in cutting down the long response time.
She says the department’s long term strategy will be to “fulfil our vision of a long and healthy life for all the people of Limpopo”.
“We will do this by directing our efforts towards increasing the life expectancy, combating HIV/Aids and decreasing the burden of diseases from tuberculosis, decreasing maternal and child mortality and also strengthening health system effectiveness,” she added.