The Department of Health faces financial constraints to such an extent that by September of each financial year it is unable to acquire services because it would have exhausted its budget already.
This was revealed during a press conference held in the auditorium of the department’s Fidel Castro Building on Tuesday.
It was learnt the department is forced to spend 23% of its total budget to acquire services, maintain health facilities and equipment and purchase medicine while 73% goes toward compensation of employees.
The figures were made public by Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba who went on to indicate that a shortage of medical professionals currently exists but that the department can’t appoint 586 workers who are concluding their 12-month community service at the end of the month because it needs an additional R333 million to do so.
It is a known fact that hospitals need additional doctors, nurses and pharmacy assistants, Ramathuba stressed and added that to this end they have made a submission to Provincial Treasury requesting the appointment of the 586 personnel into the system. Provincial Treasury however advised that it could not be done due to there being no additional provision made in the provincial purse to accommodate more employees and taking into account the current financial circumstances in the country.
According to Ramathuba, Provincial Treasury was informed firstly by Workload Indicators of Staffing Norms (WISN) that was conducted by the National Department of Health which shows the areas of critical shortage per province. Treasury managed to approve the appointment of 142 medical officers who formed part of those identified by WISN as severe areas of need .
“We have now hit the ceiling in terms of spending on compensation of employees, making us number one in the country to spend most of our budget on salaries. Processes of engagement between us, Provincial Treasury and the Department of Labour are ongoing. Mechanisms on how to release money to absorb these employees are being explored. We have proposed the introduction of shift work among certain categories of employees such as pharmacists and radiographers which means they would not have to work overtime but rather restructure their hours to make sure that all our facilities are covered within 24 hours,” she explained.
She went on to reveal that the department spends R800 million on overtime and reiterated that the money can be utilised to appoint more employees who will work on a shift basis. Ramathuba emphasised that salaries take the biggest slice of the budgetary cake because there are many wrong people on the system who often seek outside input to execute their duties and this costs money. She added that they are currently trying to merge positions to save money “Even if we save 5%, it will make a big difference. The other option is for old employees to take a stand and request early retirement packages for us to be able to appoint young professionals who are currently without jobs,” Ramathuba stated.
Acting Head of Department Thokozani Mhlongo stressed that the department was currently struggling when it comes to the budget and reiterated that they start each financial year with accruals. She further clarified that they are unable to acquire services and pay service providers around September each year because the department would have exhausted its budget. Mhlongo concluded by saying they need every cent they could get to render services to the people and keep health facilities running.
Story & photos: ENDY SENYATSI