Public Protector asked to intervene in the plight of home-based caregivers

Mpumalanga home-based caregivers on Wednesday pleaded with Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela to help resolve the issues they cited as impediments to the provision of quality healthcare services in poverty-stricken communities.

They were engaging in Nelspruit with the Public Protector, who has been in the province since Tuesday, as part of her annual stakeholder dialogue and public hearing. The campaign focuses on strengthening government’s ability to deliver on Millennium Development Goals, particularly those on ending poverty and on health.

During the meeting, where healthcare matters dominated the dialogue, the occupational safety of caregivers emerged as the biggest problem, with some complaining that they did not have much-needed implements such as gloves, adult diapers and bandages.

One woman, who said she bathed, fed and did patients’ laundry, complained that she and her colleagues often had to improvise, using plastics due to the non-availability of gloves. Concurring with the woman, another caregiver called on the provincial government to supply patients with food parcels, arguing that the ill could not take their medication on empty stomachs. She said taking medication while hungry rendered the treatment ineffective.

In addition, there was a general consensus among caregivers that insufficient funding, non-payment of stipends and the discrepancies involved posed a threat to the provision of the services they render.

Calls were also made for the standardisation of the caregiver monthly stipends and funding, with those affected complaining that there were inequalities in the funding model for different non-governmental organizations. Some complained that they once had to go for years without stipends.

Speaking during the dialogue, the Public Protector told the meeting that while the home-based care programme was an excellent initiative, she was concerned about how the initiative appeared to be carried out.

“Are we not shifting the burden of taking care of the sick to poor people? Are the caregivers adequately trained to understand and minimize the risks of infection to themselves? Are they adequately supported?” she asked.

Responding to the concerns, Chief Director for District Health Services from the National Department of Health, Ramphelane Morewane, all caregivers are led by a professional nurse, linked to a healthcare facility.

“Treating septic wounds with bare hands and improvising could place both the caregiver and the patient at risk,” he said.

Earlier the Public Protector and her deputy, Adv. Kevin Malunga, conducted spot-checks at the local Themba Hopsital, where they interacted with both the patients and staff.

Patients complained about waiting for too long on the queues, alleging that it took an average of three hours to get a file. They added that they often need to have airtime to call the hospital the day before in order to avoid waiting for too long to have their files retrieved.

Patients also raised issues about files, and by extension, medical records that often got lost at the hospital. Shortage of staff was also a problem as was the slow pace of filling vacant positions. Further issues were raised about the location of the neo-natal ward next to the laundry room, which was seen as a contributing factor to the hospital’s 10 percent neo-natal mortality rate.

“We were, however, impressed with the state of the Intensive Care Unit and maternity ward,” Adv. Malunga said.

Health MEC, Mashego Dlamini, said her department was also concerned about patient’s long wait for their files and for medicine. They were using a “dashboard system” to rate the level of services, with view to making improvements.

She added that the current system for capturing files was not user-friendly and that this had created problems. They were waiting for the National Department of Health to improve the system.

“We are about to appoint data capturers because those already in the system are not coping with the backlog, ” MEC Dlamini said, indicating her department had appointed over 4000 healthcare professionals since she assumed duty in February this year.

Other complaints raised during the session included an allegation of solicitation of bribes in exchange for jobs at the Mbombela Fire Department and ill-treatment of the deaf community by frontline staff at healthcare facilities.

The dialogue moves to the Western Cape next week, where the Public Protector and team will engage with stakeholders in Paarl and Cape Town.

For more information, contact:

Kgalalelo Masibi
Public Protector South Africa
012 366 7006
079 507 0399
0800 11 20 40

Published Date: 
Wednesday, July 17, 2013