Parliamentary address UDM Member of Parliament in an extended public committee debate Health Budget Vote (5 June 2008)

Madam Speaker and Honourable Members -

The UDM supports the budget.

The big challenge is translating a national Health budget of R15 billion into tangible outcomes.

For me, the past year in public health can be summed up as a tale of two hospitals and the children they serve. A great part of current South African public health policy rests upon - and is popularly associated with - Primary Healthcare, which places the mother and child first. This is an admirable cornerstone for public health policy.

That is why we have been devastated by the high infant mortality rate at our hospitals, and Frere Hospital in particular. That public health institution has failed the mothers and fathers who lost their children. The hospital management, the provincial department, and ultimately the Minister, have failed the people who went to Frere to celebrate newborn life and instead received only unnecessary death and flimsy excuses.

On the other hand, there are also public health institutions that serve as beacons of hope and centres of excellence. No institution is a better example than the Red Cross Children's Hospital, situated here in Cape Town, but providing care for children from across the country and the continent.

Currently this hospital has a shortage of wheelchairs and mobility devices. Children have to wait for as long as four years for this basic equipment, which means that their conditions worsen dramatically. This equipment backlog amounts to R1.1 million, excluding spares and maintenance. It is such a small amount in the greater scheme of things, yet it could change the lives of hundreds of needy children. Why can't this small amount be leveraged from a national budget of R15 billion, for a unique institution, that serves the entire country and that has a proven track-record of excellent service delivery?

We can measure the performance of our entire healthcare system in terms of whether we can provide care for our children. It is the tale of the two hospitals that I have related today that exposes our collective failure as a society to meet this most basic test. As taxpayers and MPs we must demand of this Government to do better. The management failures at Frere must be addressed, as must the relatively small but critical funding shortage at the Red Cross Children's Hospital. It isn't a question of funding or resources; rather it is question of political will and priorities.

I thank you.

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