Challenges hindering the provision of quality health care services in rural towns and farm communities became the subject of intense discussions between Delegates of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and Department of Health officials, during oversight visits to the Free State by the NCOP, in preparation for the Taking Parliament to the People Programme.

The pre-visits form the first part of the Taking Parliament to the People Programme, and will be followed by the main event in August and later a report-back session to the community by the NCOP, to make sure government delivers on commitments towards the realisation of the country’s ambitious plan to end poverty and inequality by the year 2030, the National Development Plan (NDP).

The oversights were conducted under the theme: “Celebrating 20 years of the Constitution and 20 years since the establishment of the NCOP”.

Provision of quality health care is part of government’s apex priorities for service delivery and also one of the major targets of the National Development Plan and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs’) global agenda to end hunger, poverty and underdevelopment by the year 2030.

In a media briefing to officially launch the pre-visits, NCOP Chairperson Ms Thandi Modise said though the focus was on heath, the delegates would listen to any service delivery matters raised by the community, even if they are not related to the provision of health care.

“Although the focus for the preliminary oversight visit is on the provision of health care in the Free State Province, the NCOP does not discourage the public from raising any service delivery challenges that are not related to health. We are aware that there are many that cannot be ignored, and some of them could be resolved sooner than the actual Taking Parliament to the People, we are here to ensure that tax payers’ money is well spent – as per the requirements of the Constitution,” she said.

NCOP House Chairperson for Committees and Oversight, Mr Jomo Nyambi, said the programme was not only ensuring public participation in Parliament’s business, but also a “major boost to the oversight role of the NCOP”.

“Our job is to do oversight on those who are supposed to deliver the services to the people and make sure that our citizens come first,” he said.

“Our research tells us that the Free State is doing badly in the provision of primary health care – but we are not here to be the judges, we are here to ensure that citizens get our attention,” he said.

One of the major challenges affecting the operation of clinics in the Xhariep District Municipality is the lack of water and most clinics operate from 7.30 am to 4 pm weekdays only, and completely shut down health care provision on weekends.

Xhariep clinics are not functioning well because of the water challenge in the district, despite having the country’s biggest dam, Gariep.

Mr Xolile Mathwa, the Executive Mayor of Kopanong Local Municipality (one of the municipalities under Xhariep District Municipality), told the NCOP that the water cutoff was implemented by Bloem Water because of a debt of about R180m that his municipality owed to the water supplier.

“We have a huge debt to Bloem Water, we inherited the debt from the transitional councils in the 1990s before the amalgamation of the town councils. We have engaged the relevant authorities and came up with a proposal to write off the interest – it is really killing us – so that we can service the actual amount, we appeal to NCOP delegates to come to our rescue,” he pleaded.

Officials also told the NCOP how the department was struggling to attract suitably qualified health professionals to work in rural towns as most preferred the big cities.

NCOP Delegate, Ms Thandi Mphambo-Sibhukwana, said: “It is a concern that patient transport has not been available for more than a year now, clearly some intervention could have been done. We need 24/7 medical services, the current situation gives an impression that our people don’t get sick at night and on weekends – we cannot allow this situation to continue like this.”

Ms Modise said the cutting of budgets should be done with rationale and put the needs of the people first. “We need to have a dialogue with National Treasury about the rationale used in implementing budget cuts. We cannot be about guarding budgets, we need to worry about the souls,” she said.

The Chairperson of the Select Committee on Social Services, Ms Landulile Dlamini who was Leader of the Delegation that focused on Kopanong, described the water problem in the area as “painful to hear”, and added that “without water we won’t be able to resolve the health issues and get our facilities to function efficiently”.

The biggest shock for the delegation was a revelation that a newly constructed hospital that should have opened in 2013 remained unused five years later because water and sewer services were not available, reasons that were not received well by NCOP delegates.

The Albert Nzula District Hospital was completed but not used since 2013, officials promised the delegation that it would open on the 15th of June.

“If water or infrastructure was there in 2013, would the hospital have opened, who decided to build a hospital without the required infrastructure?” asked Ms Dlamini.

The NCOP was not satisfied with the answers from the department and instructed the officials to provide authentic information on the state of the hospital.

However, during a visit to Lephoi Clinic in Bethulie, NCOP Delegates were impressed with the cleanliness of the facility as well as the welcoming attitude of the staff.

By Sakhile Mokoena
17 May 2017