Grocott’s Mail asked the National Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) about the threatening and destructive behaviour of unions at Fort England Hospital, as described in Judge Van Niekerk’s ruling in the Labour Court matter of former CEO Roger Walsh.
Some local mental health professionals have attributed an exodus of senior clinical staff from the institution to a “toxic” environment associated with the “thuggish” behaviour described by Van Niekerk.
“It’s inherent in the operation of a union that it’s seen as disruptive,” said Nehawu’s regional secretary Mlungisi Ncapayi. He said workers were frustrated and overloaded.
The staff shortage is not just at Fort England, says Ncapayi. And not just of senior clinical staff.
“It’s throughout the Eastern Cape Department of Health as a whole. The problem is how they manage personnel, and the budget.
“The budget from National Treasury should be in an 80:20 ratio for personnel and administration to support service delivery. But, like in the Education Department, it’s closer to 90:10.”
Ncapayi says when it comes to personnel, the system is bloated; however, the excess is not on the ground, but in unnecessary administrative structures.
“There are unnecessary layers of management in Health administration,” Ncapayi said.
Each hospital has its own administrative and management structure, and this should be capacitated, Ncapayi says.
“The hospital CEOs should report to the Department’s Head Office (i.e. the Province) but they are reporting to the District.”
Ncapayi believes the District is an unnecessary extra layer of administration that eats the Health budget because it has its own fully fledged office.
During protests held by Nehawu at the hospital last month, Ncapayi told Grocott’s Mail a shortage of staff was one of their grievances. “People are overloaded,” he said at the time. “And the people they are bringing in now are not helping because they still need training by those who are experienced.
“What happens is new people are left alone and they don’t know what to do.”
Ncapayi was referring mostly to the general worker and non-specialist posts that most of Fort England’s Nehawu members occupy.
Now, speaking about the shortage of specialists, Ncapayi spoke of competition between hospitals and an unsustainable “band-aid” approach.
“The Department should not allow hospitals to kill each other by competing for specialists.”
Of non-specialist staff, he said, “On the one hand, there are people filling the system who don’t have the required skills; on the other hand, the Department is hiring consultants to meet those skills requirements. They are closing the gaps with people who are not permanent.”
“Requirements are designed in such a way that they disadvantage workers inside the institution.”
Instead, staff who had been working in the institution for a long time should have been trained so that when skilled positions came up, they would stand a good chance of successfully applying.
“Health professionals are not trained to manage people,” Ncapayi said. “You need skilled managers to prevent conflict and develop people.”