Picture: 123RF/SAMSONOVS
Picture: 123RF/SAMSONOVS

The health crisis in the North West could end up being worse than the Life Esidimeni tragedy‚ according to a group of doctors.

The 73 doctors have penned an emotional plea for urgent action in the province‚ which has been crippled by protests and a nurses’ strike.

"We have taken an oath to ‘do no harm’ and in our silence‚ we have contributed to harm. This cannot go on as we are concerned about methods used which include closure of healthcare facilities that affect the health of our society‚" the letter reads.

"Of note, provision of healthcare is an entrenched Constitutional right in SA. The grievances of the striking employees are valid and supported; however, the modus operandi is condemned‚ particularly the shutting down of health service provision."

The doctors said the crisis had been fuelled by a number of factors‚ including corruption‚ job freezes‚ skills shortages and outsourcing. They said striking workers had shut the main medical depot‚ leading to a shortage of medication and other supplies. Furthermore‚ some hospitals and clinics had been closed‚ while striking staff had also intimidated their colleagues and forced them to abandon patients.

"These communities cannot access preventative‚ obstetric‚ both acute and chronic‚ surgical or medical care. Ironically, these actions are committed by individuals‚ some of whom are likely to have access to private healthcare via medical aids and are thus unlikely to be personally affected by their actions‚" the letter says.

The letter warned that the poor and disabled were among those who suffered the most.

"Many psychiatric patients [have not been] treated‚ which may make Life Esidimeni numbers look insignificant‚" the letter cautions.

At least 144 psychiatric patients died after 1‚711 mentally ill people were moved from Life Esidimeni homes to ill-equipped and underfunded nongovernmental organisations in 2016 in Gauteng.

The doctors called for the immediate reopening of healthcare facilities including main medical stores‚ the unfreezing of posts‚ employment of adequate numbers of qualified staff and the payment of outstanding suppliers’ bills.

Speaking to the Morning Live show on SABC‚ Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi expressed his dismay at the situation.

"Sending the army is a temporary measure. We will definitely meet the union in the province. My going there was because‚ regardless what grievances people have‚ we do not think they must punish ordinary people‚" Motsoaledi said.

Over the past few months, health services have ground to a halt in many parts of the North West owing to a strike by the National Education‚ Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu). That situation was exacerbated last week when violent service delivery protests broke out‚ leading to many roads being shut.