THE South Africa Medical Association and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) have accused the government of damaging the relationship between healthcare workers and communities.

The two organisations held a press briefing on Friday to discuss recent media reports and the government’s internal investigations of the country’s healthcare system.

Reports show an alarming number of incidents at hospitals including the deaths of more than 530 patients at Makweng hospital in Limpopo in the past four months and the alleged mismanagement of R1.4bn by the Eastern Cape health department.

"These unfortunate events have soured the relationship between healthcare professionals and communities. The healthcare system is failing and unfortunately our doctors and nurses are the faces of the symptoms and therefore the targets of the communities’ rage," said Dr Phophi Ramathuba, chairwoman of the association’s committee for public sector doctors, said.

One of the more public problems with which the health system is dealing is the failure to pay health practitioners on time.

"You can’t expect people to plough the fields without payment. And you never read of any of the human resources personnel not receiving salaries or any of the top management.

"And on the issue of working overtime, why should doctors do it when they don’t get paid for their normal working hours as it is? You cannot say as management that because two doctors were found abusing the overtime system that it must be done away with. That just shows your lack of ability to do you job — which is managing.

"If the National Health Insurance programme were to be rolled out today it would fail," Dr Ramathuba said.

The association and Denosa will propose a campaign for a positive practice environment to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi next week. The campaign will focus on eight pillars: safety, supplies, resources, payment, education, support, equipment and respect.

Denosa president Dorothy Matebeni said the campaign was essential as services were deteriorating because of the poor working environment.

"Nurses are resources and the backbone of the system," she said. "Most of the nurses are at a retiring age. They leave gaps in manpower but their posts are not filled and we are told that there is no money to replace them. Where is the money? How are nurses to cope?

"(The positive practice environment) is back to basics. Back to basics is not for the nurses that are here now. It’s for the doctors and nurses that are still to come. How can we expect good doctors and nurses when we teach them in such horrendous conditions?" she asked.

The South Africa Medical Association and Denosa fingered the Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Gauteng as having the least helpful or supportive leaders in health, and called for leadership that would lead by example and be held accountable.

The two organisations also accused the South African Nurses Council and the Health Professionals Council of failing in their mandates to protect the public through their failure to protect professionals.

Denosa general secretary Thembeka Gwagwa said: "We are not pointing fingers now. We as the health workers are coming together to organise ourselves and we are saying to the people of South Africa, help us so that we can change this healthcare system," she said.