Parliament’s portfolio committee on health has raised concerns about high staff vacancy rates and a shortage of space and supplies at health centres in KwaZulu-Natal.

The committee is also concerned about infrastructure maintenance backlogs‚ which have led to some healthcare facilities not meeting the norms and standards stipulated by the Office of Health Standards Compliance.

This was revealed by the committee after its first oversight visit to the Umgungundlovu district municipality in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday, so as to better understand the challenges faced by healthcare facilities.

Fish Mahlalela‚ the committee’s acting chair‚ said on Wednesday that they were not in the province to criticise but rather to assist. "Therefore, the issues raised here will be forwarded to the executive. It is important during the engagement that you be honest with us."

The committee visited Mpumuza Clinic, Edendale Hospital‚ Fort Napier Hospital and Grey’s Hospital.

One common finding was a high staff vacancy rate due to the provincial government’s moratorium on some non-clinical posts‚ said Mahlalela. The committee was informed that only highly skilled and specialised recruitment is possible‚ and noted that the staffing issue affects service delivery at clinics and hospitals.

Apart from infrastructure maintenance backlogs‚ clinics and hospitals also reported challenges in equipment maintenance‚ caused by budget constraints. At Mpumuza Clinic‚ the committee noted a shortage of medication and open spaces exposed to the weather used as waiting rooms for patients.

"The clinic is too small. There is no space‚" said Mahlalela. "We cannot have a clinic that small servicing four wards. It’s a matter that needs to be attended to."

At Edendale Hospital‚ the issue of space was also a major concern because it affected the way healthcare practitioners performed their duties. The committee found that patients did not have privacy in consulting rooms; in one case‚ the committee found four doctors each busy consulting with patients in the same room‚ with only one stretcher.

Staff at Fort Napier Hospital highlighted a high vacancy rate and a lack of resources. The hospital has two forensic psychiatrists‚ who serve the entire province. The committee said this created further problems in terms of providing adequate service to the justice system as the courts refer cases to the hospital for assessment to see if people are mentally fit to stand trial.

Buildings at the hospital were also dilapidated and in need of renovation and maintenance to meet norms and standards.

On Wednesday the committee will visit Cramond Clinic‚ Gcumisa Clinic and Appelsbosch Hospital.