THE Gauteng health department will approach the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to investigate claims by doctors in the province who say they are owed overtime.

The department said on Monday that it was finalising details of how many staff members had submitted such claims, after finding irregularities in some overtime claims from hospitals including Far East Rand and Natalspruit.

Chairwoman of the South African Medical Association Poppy Ramathuba said monitoring and clearing overtime payments should be the responsibility of hospital management.

“They are telling the South African public that there are challenges in management. It isn’t an issue that should warrant a SARS investigation. I’m not sure if they have a role. We have been trying as the association to get a meeting with the MEC because we are worried about this,” Dr Ramathuba said.

Dr Ramathuba said the association had often tried to talk to the provincial department about the problem but the department had largely been unresponsive. She also said many working in the system did not follow proper payment processes, which may have contributed to claims that the department considers irregular.

“In ideal circumstances claims will be refused if they do not accompany supporting documents. Unfortunately we are dealing with a system where people are used to paying even without evidence or following processes,” she said.

Doctors at Sebokeng and Kapanong hospitals have said they will not work extra hours above the stipulated amount of overtime.

Provincial health department spokesman Simon Zwane said some doctors were claiming as much as twice their salaries in overtime.

However, he said, a number of the doctors did not follow procedures, such as keeping attendance registers, to prove they had worked the overtime they were claiming.

“They don’t want to sign attendance registers but they still insist on being paid overtime,” Mr Zwane said. “There are rules that are there regarding attendance and those are what we have started enforcing, which is why we have said where there is excess ... we need further investigation.”

Acting head of the department Ndoda Biyela said the claims were excessive and put pressure on the department’s budget, even threatening its stability.

The department has been struggling to pay its suppliers. Earlier this month more than R2bn was made available to it after most of its budget for the financial year was spent.

The additional funds were allocated from the Gauteng legislature’s revenue accounts to help the department pay the salaries of administrative staff and health professionals, and for purchases of goods and services.

In December, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane said the provincial treasury would be roped in to clean up the health department’s finances and an administrator would be appointed to sort out its financial affairs.

In the meantime, the department has put in place contingency measures to ensure patients at Sebokeng and Kapanong hospitals are not denied treatment.

Patients requiring emergency medical care will be transferred to facilities such as Chris Hani Baragwanath, Helen Joseph, Charlotte Maxeke and Rahima Moosa hospitals.

The department is recruiting more doctors to work at the affected hospitals to ensure there are adequate numbers of medical personnel available.

Democratic Alliance (DA) health spokesman Jack Bloom said on Monday that the department should have its own internal systems to monitor attendance and audit claims rather than approaching SARS to investigate.

“The department should have internal capacity to do this. We can’t afford delays. Doctors are being punished because of a small number of people abusing the system. What is so complicated about applying overtime?” Mr Bloom said.

He said that from his experience of visiting hospitals, he did not believe the majority of the claims made by doctors were irregular.

“The majority of claims are from doctors who are doing the hours. There is a minority of abuses and they need to be rectified. The majority are working long hours and we need them because we are short-staffed and we can’t cope without their hours,” he said.

Mr Bloom said transferring patients to other hospitals might prove problematic given the physical distance between hospitals and overcrowding.

With Sapa