East Cape health department not under administration, premier insists


EC Premier Oscar Mabuyane

Premier Oscar Mabuyane’s office on Sunday denied suggestions that the provincial health department had been placed under administration, saying the establishment of a project management unit on Friday, led by health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize’s adviser Dr Sibongile Zungu, was not a takeover but “a support intervention”.

Even though Mabuyane had said the unit had been given full administrative powers, he said it was “not that the provincial health department has been placed under administration per se, but in this crisis it cannot be business as usual”.

The unit, lead by Zungu, is to be based at the office of provincial health superintendent-general Dr Thobile Mbengashe and will report to Mabuyane weekly.

Mbengashe told DispatchLIVE on Sunday: “Covid-19 is an urgent problem that requires project management.

A seasoned medical practitioner, Zungu was recently sent to the province by the national government to help the ailing provincial health department.

Zungu will be responsible for leading the health intervention of the province’s Covid-19 containment and mitigation strategy, the province confirmed over the weekend.

The provincial treasury has also been roped in by Mabuyane to help take care of the financial affairs of the struggling department.

The Bhisho government has been criticised for its poor handling of the Covid-19 outbreak and failing to provide adequate healthcare to patients.

The province had 58,860 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 772 deaths and 41,707 recoveries, by the time of writing on Sunday afternoon.

Mabuyane said the intervention had come after he had asked the national health department for help.

The premier, through the provincial treasury, had also directed implementation of section 18 of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) at the ailing department.

Mabuyane’s spokesperson Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha on Friday said: “Section 18 (2)(g) dictates that the provincial treasury must intervene by taking appropriate steps which may include withholding of funds to address a serious or persistent material breach of PFMA.

“This may include investigating financial mismanagement material causes”.

Mkhize had initially sent a support team of medical experts to help the province fight the spread of Covid-19.

The team spent 12 days visiting health facilities around Buffalo City metro and the Nelson Mandela Bay metro after the alarm was raised about the failing healthcare system.

They then compiled a report on hospital conditions and preparedness for the surge of infections in the province.

The experts’ report found weak management was a key problem in the province, that procurement delays were hampering the surge in capacity commitments, and that labour relations were an “overwhelming issue that requires a dedicated plan”.

They also found that historic arrangements for drainage areas, resource allocation and referral routing were not addressing the significant surge in patient numbers, particularly in under-served, vulnerable populations.

The assessment found that all oxygen separation plants were located in the Nelson Mandela Bay area, making distribution of oxygen to far-away hospitals difficult.

The support team also found that while the metros had mobilised reasonable infrastructure to meet the surge, attention to the service delivery requirements such as the adequate provision of oxygen, equipment, human resources and medicines was needed.

The team suggested the province urgently addressed problems at hospitals like Dora Nginza in Port Elizabeth, which is being overwhelmed by patient demand, lack of infrastructure, equipment and human resources and is battling to meet the clinical care demand.

The team recommended that Bhisho address the inadequate co-ordination in hospitals through the revised command and control structure.

Mabuyane said the unit had the necessary authority to fast-track actions and decisions to address each of the findings in the support team report.

He said the pandemic also presented an opportunity to “fundamentally transform” the department, saying the intervention of the unit was “part of starting this transformation process”.

Sicwetsha on Sunday said “this was not a takeover,  but a support intervention”.

The announcement comes just days after EFF provincial chair Yazini Tetyana called for the department to be placed under administration.

Tetyana said: “As EFF we call on the national government to invoke section 100 of the constitution by placing the department under administration with immediate effect.

“We make this call against a background of years of maladministration, neglect of infrastructure, poor political leadership and blatant corruption which has plagued this department since the dawn of democracy”.

Zungu will be assisted by Dr Monde Tom and Laurence van Zuydam.

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