All public health facilities fully functional

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pretoria - The Department of Health has confirmed that public health care facilities countrywide will be fully functional on Friday despite planned protest marches by striking public health doctors.

Measures have been put in place to ensure that patients who arrive at hospitals will be attended to, said the department, adding there are more than 14 000 employed doctors in the public health sector, including part-time and full-time staff.

Thousands of doctors, who work in state hospitals and belong to the South African Medical Association (SAMA), are expected to hold protest marches in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

They are expected to hand over a memorandum to their respective provincial Health MECs.

The main grievances expected to be outlined in the memorandum include the delay in the implementation of the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) and unconducive working conditions.

The union members are also demanding a 50 percent salary increment.

In Pretoria, marchers will begin their march at around 11am from Brown Street to the Department of Health's offices in Prinsloo Street.

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa has also issued a statement in support of the march, the Congress of South African Trade Union has also come out in support of the doctors.

The doctor's strike, which has been continuing since mid-April, has been deemed illegal by the department. "It is well known that doctors, amongst others, are by law prohibited from participating in strike action," the department said.

Negotiations regarding the OSD at the Public Health and Social Development Sectoral Bargaining Council have been postponed to 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 June 2009 following a request by the trade unions for further extensive consultation with their members.

According to the department, this has delayed the finalisation of the matter and concluding of a collective agreement "bearing in mind that the unprotected strike impacts negatively on the negotiation process".

The department noted "it was regrettable that it has become a habit for health unions, especially those representing medical doctors to abandon their patients in order to participate in unlawful protest action".

However, it said that it was committed to the negotiation processes and continuing discussions with professional associations on matters that seek to improve the quality of health services and the strengthening of the health system.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Cape Health Department said on Thursday it was addressing the demands of striking staff at its Port Elizabeth depot, which is one of two centres for medicine distribution in the province.

Staff picketed at the depot on Thursday morning due to a dispute over pay that dated back to the incorporation of the former Ciskei and Transkei administrations into a single provincial health system.

Spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the Provincial Health MEC Pumulo Masualle had already given instructions for the payout of backlogs, and the cash would be in their bank accounts within the next two weeks.

"The department does not dispute they are owed these benefits," he said.

He said that no hospitals would experience a shortage of medicine as their orders had already been sent through.

Mr Kupelo said the province would call on sessional doctors from the private sector to fill the gaps if its doctors participated in the national SAMA strike.