Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

On Wednesday, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) registered its "deep concern" while the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of SA (Hospersa) said its members were being intimidated about going to work‚ following the major disruption of healthcare services caused by industrial action in the public healthcare sector in recent weeks.

Recent protest action in both Gauteng and the North West provinces has resulted in striking workers disrupting medical services‚ damaging public property‚ and closing clinics and hospitals‚ the university said. This has resulted in many patients being turned away‚ depriving them of access to basic and critical healthcare services.

On Wednesday morning‚ TimesLIVE reported that doctors were being blocked from entering two hospitals in the North West. Wits said the impact of the industrial action has had far-reaching consequences for the university’s staff members‚ academics and students who undertake clinical duties in public hospitals and clinics.

"In some instances‚ teaching and learning activities were disrupted‚ staff members were threatened and denied access to facilities‚ and property was damaged. The university finds these actions reprehensible and calls on all stakeholders to work together to urgently resolve the crisis in the healthcare sector as soon as possible."

Hospersa also said on Wednesday that it had "received reports of intimidation and assault from our members‚ whereby they are threatened from going to work".

The union has written to the acting head of department at the North West department of health‚ asking for "protection for our members who are not part of the labour unrest". Hospersa encouraged its members to report to work‚ "if it is safe to do so".

Staff in the North West are demonstrating against alleged corruption in the health department, as well as a shortage of doctors and nurses. Community health workers and lay HIV counsellors‚ who earn R2‚500 a month‚ are also protesting against their low pay.

Hospersa welcomed news of North West premier Supra Mahumapelo’s exit‚ following a wave of violent protests in various sectors. "We welcome the North West premier’s resignation as this will ease tension caused by the violent protests‚" said Hospersa spokesperson Kevin Halama. "It is time the province focuses on a new era that is corruption-free and driven by quality service delivery."

The union called on the political heads to appoint "a credible replacement‚ who will prioritise the resuscitation of the healthcare service in North West province‚ which has all but collapsed".

Halama said that during the ongoing protests‚ at least six clinics around Mahikeng were closed‚ while patients had to be evacuated from the Taung‚ Lehurutshe and Zeerust hospitals. This evacuation of patients led to overcrowding at the Mahikeng Provincial Hospital‚ he added.

The North West department of health has since been put under administration and the South African National Defence Force (Sandf) has stepped in to stabilise the situation at Mahikeng Provincial Hospital.

"The situation at many of the province’s public health facilities reached crisis level many weeks ago‚" said Halama. "We constantly wrote to the minister of health alerting him of the deteriorating state of public health care in the North West province. We will continue engaging government‚ within the confines of the law‚ in addressing the pertinent issues that have led to a collapse of healthcare services in the province.

"We hold strong views about the issues that need urgent attention in order to turn around the ailing North West department of health. The burning issues that remain a thorn in the flesh are the termination of fraudulent contracts‚ the filing of vacant funded posts, and the need for a forensic investigation into the province’s department of health to root out any other corrupt officials."