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

The Northern Cape health department is struggling to fill specialist posts, threatening its capacity to provide care to patients, Parliament heard on Wednesday.

Parliament’s portfolio committee on health has asked all the health MECs to report on the state of public hospitals in their province.

The failings in the province’s provision of public healthcare were driven home by the department’s head, Stephen Jonkers, who told MPs that the department faced more than R1.4bn in medico-legal claims. Many of these claims related to cerebral palsy cases, some of which dated back to 2004, he said.

These cases reflect weaknesses across the province’s health system, which has only one tertiary facility — Kimberley Hospital — to which all complicated pregnancy cases are referred, medical director Dr Dion Thys said. "Take a lack of skills, late presentation at antenatal clinics, add long distances and you have a lot of snow-balling issues," he said on the sidelines of the meeting.

Thys earlier told the committee that the provincial health department employed just 30 specialists, 27 of whom were at Kimberley Hospital. However, Kimberly Hospital was struggling to recruit a specialist to head its obstetrics and gynaecology unit, he said.

"The services are there, there are experienced medical officers in the unit, babies are born, operations are done but we lack a lead person in the department," he said.

Thys said the Northern Cape lacked many key specialists, such as nephrologists and cardiologists. However, it was able to provide appropriate cancer services as it had two oncologists, two radiologists and one paediatric oncologist, he said.

Kimberley Hospital was "bursting at the seams" and patients faced long waiting times, he said. The department had tried to reduce the number of patients at the facility by moving some orthopaedic surgery cases to Uppington Hospital, he said.

The Northern Cape health department received a qualified audit in 2016-17, and has significant financial management challenges. MPs heard that it started the 2018-19 fiscal year with R532.6m in accruals, reflecting unpaid bills from prior years. Its allocated budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year is R4.74bn.