PRESIDENT MBEKI BECAME a knight of the order of St John last week. In a ceremony in St George’s Cathedral he promised: ‘to devote myself … [to] the care of the sick and the injured, to conduct myself as a true Knight and a person of honour.’
Ironic really, considering that his government is slashing the budgets of Western Cape’s two flagship state hospitals by R30 million. Groote Schuur and Tygerberg will lose 116 nurses, 90 beds, 33 doctors, 38 social workers, physiotherapists and pharmacists. Adding insult to injury, the former’s private ward (which has generated it an extra R230 000 since its inception) is being forced to close.
The two hospitals are already understaffed and overburdened: one such example of this is that the waiting period for patients requiring a hip- or knee-replacement at Groote Schuur can be as long as eighteen years. Despite their challenges, however, the hospitals can still – miraculously – lay claim to be the largest source of medical research in South Africa.
To put even greater pressure on these institutions is undermining the sterling work that doctors, nurses and other poorly paid professionals are doing. The cuts illustrate the indifference our government has for our country’s sick and the people that care for them.
The excuse that the money will be redeployed elsewhere within the health service is both callous and unjustifiable. Doubtless other hospitals need more resources. This should be provided – but without compromising the delivery of quality tertiary-level healthcare.
To live up to his new role our knight should step in now. If he can prevent these disastrous cuts, it might in a small way redeem the 800 deaths every day that are a tragic and unnecessary consequence of his (now thankfully abandoned) policy of Aids denialism.