Political meddling and hospitals collapsing : How Bhekisisa exposed the ANC and the Free State’s health MEC.

Health activists ululated when the Free State’s controversial health MEC, Benny Malakoane, was removed from his position in a provincial Cabinet reshuffle.

He now heads the economic and small business development, tourism and environmental affairs portfolio.

HIV lobby group the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has, for the past two years, been running an intensive #FireBenny campaign. But the ANC says Malakoane has “done an excellent job” and denied his removal has anything to do with the activists.

Bhekisisa exposed how the Free State health system and ANC’s Malakoane took a bed from a dying woman during his three-and- a-half year reign as health MEC.

  “How a dying woman’s bed was taken by an ANC official”.

Doctors at Phekholong Hospital in Bethlehem in the eastern Free State claimed that, late one night in July 2014, Benny Malakoane and the head of the provincial health department walked unannounced into the hospital, where an ANC branch secretary was being treated. The TAC later established that the patient was a cousin of Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who was the Free State MEC for agriculture at the time.

Malakoane and his colleague wanted the patient to be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). Phekholong, a district hospital, had no ICU, so the two officials ordered that he be transferred to Dihlabeng Regional Hospital, also in Bethlehem.

The ICU consultant on duty assessed the patient and found that, in line with national clinical protocols, he did not qualify to be admitted to the ICU as he was in the final stages of a chronic condition and highly unlikely to recover. “No other ICU in the country would admit a patient like that, especially over other patients we could more likely save,” a senior doctor at Dihlabeng told Bhekisisa.

Because of cost-cutting measures, Dihlabeng had only three ICU beds. All three beds had been taken, so the patient was admitted to a second-level medical ward in the hospital.

Two other critical patients, one with a mild heart attack and another a burns victim, had already been turned away from the ICU because of space constraints.

The next morning, doctors said an instruction from Malakoane was delivered to the clinical manager on duty by one of his staff members: an ICU bed was to be made available “because the MEC had promised family members the patient would go to ICU”.

Later that week, another two critical patients deserving of an ICU bed lay in ordinary medical wards while Malakoane’s patient remained in ICU – with no improvement in his condition. He died a few days later. So did an elderly woman, with a promising prognosis, who couldn’t get an ICU bed.

Malakoane denied these allegations in a later interview with Bhekisisa: “That’s another allegation which was grossly uninformed,” he said. “Do those doctors know what I look like?”