Response to Oxfam article in the Sunday Times

Response to Oxfam article in the Sunday Times

Response to Oxfam article in the Sunday Times

Your opinion editorial titled “Time to put the welfare of health workers before profits” published on November 8th has reference.

It is difficult to respond to each argument and retain a semblance of coherence since the article, covers such a vast swathe of topics, from the perceived ills of capitalism to the quality of PPE, to dividend policies at some institutions backdated over several years, and ending in an appeal for support for a campaign. Nevertheless, some accusations are made that require some response.

The writer of the article accuses the listed private hospitals of being so fixated on delivering dividends to unidentified small groups of shareholders that they are “not fit for purpose.” Private hospitals, they write, want to get back to “ business as usual” but that  “business as usual led us here.” Where “here” is remains unclear, as does a definition of what “business as usual” is. To be clear, business as usual for private hospitals is providing treatment and healthcare facilities to those who need them.

Moreover, some aspects of the arguments made are confusing. Private hospitals and capitalism are excoriated but then the argument morphs into a call for the diversion of dividends as directed by the writers. Also, some calculations mentioned are unlikely to be accurate: for instance, one group is alleged to have paid out more in dividends than it “made” – R19bn in dividends versus R11bn.

Thankfully the writers do not accuse private hospitals of inadequate equipment to address the pandemic, but they do suggest that all dividends should be suspended until 2022 to pay for testing, medical care, and PPE across both private and public sectors. This suggestion raises a number of questions, answers to each falls outside of the scope of this letter. Nevertheless, we can consider the motivation for the suggestion as first an attempt to ensure protection for nurses, and second as an attempt to ensure private hospitals play a meaningful supportive role in the pandemic response.

It may be helpful to note that so far, according to the National Institute for Communicable Disease (NICD) data private hospitals have admitted almost half of all pandemic patients in SA to date. Nurses and doctors have been at the bedside of each of the patients admitted. Each nurse and doctor and other hospital staff are the focus of every safety measure adopted, all aligned with the National Department of Health, National Institute for Communicable Disease and World Health Organisation guidelines. Moreover, private hospitals have provided them with adequate protective gear and equipment. Private hospitals are painfully aware that nurses work in the frontline of the war against the pandemic, and they are determined to provide all the support nurses in private facilities need.

More than this, private hospitals have all engaged in Business for South Africa structures that were speedily set up to support the Government when the virus landed on our shores. Private hospitals have provided critical data, have engaged with regional and national Governments to contribute resources through pandemic command centres and have played a leading role in negotiating Service Level Agreements to treat patients for the duration of the pandemic. They have set aside facilities despite inevitable drops in revenue that have financially threatened some institutions.

In other words, private hospitals share Oxfam’s concern for nurse safety and remain committed to fully supporting the country through the pandemic.

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