Health services to continue despite strike - dept

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pretoria - The Department of Health says it will do everything possible to ensure the delivery of health care services in public hospitals continues amid threats of strike action by some doctors on Friday.

Department's Deputy Director-General of Human Resources, Percy Mahlathi said on Tuesday that as part of minimising the impact of the strike on Friday, the department will consider activating a range of interventions based on the impact on each affected facility.

"The right to access health care is a constitutional and legal one that we take very seriously as a department and we commit ourselves to do everything possible to ensure that this right is not tampered with or unnecessarily compromised," Dr Mahlathi said.

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) announced on Monday that doctors will be marching in Pretoria on Friday to show their dissatisfaction over various issues in the health sector, with the main focus being the delays in the implementation of the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD).

The department and unions representing health workers were to meet at the Bargaining Council last Friday, however negotiations were postponed until 8 June.

Dr Mahlathi said the department did not understand why SAMA could postpone negotiations but at the same time embark on a strike action when they were expected to report back to the council on the recent offer tabled.

"The department's expectation was for SAMA and other groups to come with comments/counter-proposals on models that are on the table together with figures attached to these models and thus justify their demand for a 50 percent across the board salary increases.

"At this stage, the department's view is that such a demand [of 50 percent] is arbitrary, condones a one-size fits all approach and will not address the disparities that the OSD seeks to address," he said.

The department, he said, was of the view that while salary increases for doctors, dentists, pharmacists and emergency medical personnel were an absolute necessity, it was also important to have in place a model that will address career path issues and recognise and reward those who perform well in the system.

"It is now questionable whether SAMA really wants this matter resolved or not," Dr Mahlathi said.

He emphasised that the department remained committed to resolving the grievances of health care workers and to address the management challenges affecting the performances of some hospitals in the country.

Dr Mahlathi however warned that any premature strike action could only cause unnecessary delays in resolving this matter and compromise the bigger task of improving the performance of the public health system, "a task and duty that some of these doctors are also responsible for."