Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

The statutory body charged with assessing the quality of hospitals and clinics  is so short-staffed it cannot cope with the volume of complaints it is receiving from patients, its CEO told parliament on Thursday.

The Office of Health Standards Compliance (OHSC) will shortly assume the responsibility of determining whether healthcare facilities meet the grade to be accredited for providing services under National Health Insurance. It was formally established three years ago, but it still does not have the legal weight to inspect private healthcare facilities or enforce penalties on persistent offenders.

The OHSC saw a surge in the number of complaints in the year to March 2018, and managed to respond to barely half of them within six months, its CEO, Siphiwe Mndaweni, told parliament’s portfolio committee on health as she presented the organisation’s 2017-2018 annual report.

The OHSC received 1,122 complaints during the 2017-2018 financial year, compared to 730 complaints the year before. The number of complaints increased partly in response to the highly publicised Life Esidimeni scandal, in which 144 state mental patients died, said Mndaweni.

She said the OHSC’s capacity to respond to complaints was hampered by the fact that its staff complement had not changed during the period under review, and by slow responses from healthcare institutions.

Half the posts in both its complaints centre and its investigation unit stood empty, she said.

Most complaints were about public health facilities in Gauteng (378) and KwaZulu-Natal (138) she said.  

She said new norms and standards for health facilities would come into effect in February 2019, at which point the OHSC will begin inspecting private facilities.

The OHSC had developed an enforcement policy, which proposes fines for persistent offenders, but it has yet to be approved by the health minister. Once approved, it will be published in the Government Gazette, said Mndaweni.

“The office has a responsibility to ensure there is clear understanding of how enforcement will take place against persistently noncompliant institutions."