The Eastern Cape health department yesterday insisted there was no moratorium on filling posts, but conceded it did not have enough budget to hire all the staff it needed.
The department’s comments came as the South African Medical Association (Sama) threatened to call for the provincial health department to be placed under national administration if the problem of unpaid doctors and community healthcare workers was not resolved within a week.
The provincial health department has been under fire from health activists and doctors alike, after it emerged that dozens of doctors have not been paid for several months, and a brand new haematology unit at the Port Elizabeth provincial hospital is standing idle for lack of staff.
Sama acting chairman Mark Sonderup said: "After several meetings with Treasury and the MEC for finance, we were given an assurance that Treasury would give bail-out money, but the health department can’t produce a list of people who have and have not been paid."
Treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane said the Cabinet could place a provincial health department under national administration if it breached the Public Finance Management Act, but the government was not considering doing so for the Eastern Cape.
The Port Elizabeth provincial hospital’s R20m facility for blood cancer patients was established at government expense, yet it has been unable to hire the nurses it needs to ensure round-the-clock care. It is intended to alleviate the need for patients to travel to other provinces for specialised treatment.
"The human resources budget is in the red," said the Eastern Cape health department’s spokesman, Sizwe Kupelo, declining to provide figures until after a key meeting next week at which health officials will try to convince the provincial treasury to increase their budget. "Health is grossly underfunded," he said.
Mr Kupelo said the provincial health department’s human resources budget had been under strain for the past five years, after it was compelled to pay for the higher salaries introduced by the government’s "occupational-specific dispensation" without getting a commensurate increase in its budget. This unfunded mandate was worsened by theft and corruption, he said.