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Medical school supports strikers

Resource type: News

Daily News (South Africa) |

by Lyse Comins

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine has brought lectures, training and clinical duties in hospitals to a halt in solidarity with striking doctors who have vowed to continue protesting until the Department of Health reinstates their 244 fired colleagues.

Health services in state hospitals have been crippled by the two-week long strike in protest against poor wages and working conditions.

No new patients have been admitted to hospitals and many patients have been discharged early or sent to private hospitals.

Doctors said claims by the Health Department yesterday that hospitals were returning to normal was “propaganda” because it had reduced by 244 an already short-staffed public health sector.

Spokesman for striking doctors, Dr Shailendra Sham, said: “As a direct response to widespread dismissals the medical school faculty has now officially expressed its support for the mass action with Heads of Department resolving to withdraw their clinical services until all of these colleagues are reinstated. Medical school teaching has been put on hold in the absence of these clinical heads. Medical students have been angered by the dismissal of their colleagues and have also expressed their support,” Sham said.

Dean of the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, Professor Willem Sturm, confirmed that academics had joined the strike.

“Teaching in years three, four and five has now stopped and exams cannot take place because of the strike. We are now, as leading academics, supporting the strike because we feel these dismissals need to be reversed or withdrawn. We are now actively supporting the strike,” Sturm said.

Sham said a full SA Medical Association (Sama) report back analysing the department’s final wage proposal was expected by tomorrow when doctors would either accept or reject the proposal. But the strike would continue until colleagues were reinstated.

Sham said doctors had been dismissed in a climate where the sector was short-staffed and posts had been frozen.

Doctors unanimously challenged government officials to experience conditions first hand by waiting in line for public hospitals rather than jumping queues or using the private hospitals.

Sham said dismissal letters were received by the chief specialist surgeon head of the Burns Unit, head of the orthopaedics department, the renal dialysis unit head and other specialists, senior and principal medical officers, registrars in specialist training and interns.

There were also reports that foreign doctors from India, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been threatened with deportation if they continued to strike.

“Many of these doctors had been providing emergency services in their hospitals and these services will now be severely curtailed, putting patients at risk. The senior staff are also involved in supervision and teaching and their dismissals will render entire departments and units non-operational. Dismissal notices include instructions that dismissed workers may not present themselves on state property,” Sham said.

“We are gravely concerned that this action will immediately endanger the lives of those patients who have been managed by skeleton staff.”

Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said he wanted to dispel the notion that the department had targeted medical officers and interns and that it was chasing away local doctors in favour of foreigners.

“We acted against health-care workers who have defied our calls as well as the Labour Court order. While doctors may have a reason/s to disrespect the government of President Zuma, we feel they still need to have respect and care for our patients.”

“Some of us qualified as doctors during apartheid. We differed with government’s point of view, but we never went on strike. We shall do everything in our power to solve this,” Dhlomo said.

Health Department spokesman Chris Maxon had said they analysed the situation and that most eThekwini hospitals previously affected by the strike were returning to normal.

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South Africa


health care, University of KwaZulu-Natal