As many as 60 managers a year will be trained to provide professional leadership at primary health-care clinics across Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape provinces as part of a new programme established within the Department of Nursing and Midwifery at Stellenbosch University (SU) with philanthropic support from medical-aid provider Discovery.
The training started in 2018 after serious concerns were reported in annual inspection reports produced by a national monitoring body about non-compliance with health-care standards at clinics across the country, says Professor Ethelwynn Stellenberg, who is leading the new project.
The project team responded to a call by the Discovery Fund for funding in Human Capacity and Skills Development and submitted an application to finance the training. As a result, the fund pledged more than R1.5 million over three years.
The need for the training was identified after clinics in Mpumalanga and Northern Cape received particularly poor scores from the Office of Health Standards Compliance (OHSC), which has a statutory duty to ensure the quality of health services nationwide.
Since 2012, the monitoring body has recorded consistently poor leadership and corporate governance and below-standard operational management at primary health-care clinics across the country.
In its 2014-15 review of 358 such clinics, more than 73% were rated as clinically poor and non-compliant. The following year, no improvement was recorded.
It was decided that intense intervention was required to address the problems of poor leadership, governance and management, which were limiting the quality of frontline service delivery at the clinics.
Accordingly, the training programme was established under the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences to provide the required skills to district managers and operational managers at primary health-care clinics which were failing to meet the required standards of care.
The trainees are taught how to analyse and formulate appropriate policies and methods for ensuring continuous improvement in the quality of services. They are also inducted in the nuts and bolts of management, including how to organise finances; how to manage their human resources and handle labour issues; and how to assess and plan for risk. Modules further cover the adoption of infection-control and disaster-management measures.
So far, a total of 58 trainees have been enrolled in the programme – 30 from Mpumalanga and 28 from the Northern Cape – and the diversity of the students, who are selected by provincial health authorities, has been a key priority. Over the three years of the project, 180 managers will be trained.
Entitled the Capacity Building in Leadership and Management in Primary Healthcare Programme, the project employs a blended-education methodology, including contact sessions and telematic satellite broadcasts, as well as continuous support from lecturers via the SunLearn e-learning platform over the phone or by Skype.
The programme, which was launched in May, started with two five-day workshops held in the two provinces to enable face-to-face contact between the learners and the facilitators from SU.
This was followed by a series of three-hour sessions in which training modules were broadcast remotely to the trainees. The first two of these sessions took place in June and August with a third in October.
The opportunity for funding the project arose after the Discovery Fund advertised the availability of philanthropic finance for projects that could support caregivers in their work, as well as broader social development.
Professor Stellenberg acknowledges the important opportunity afforded by the Fund’s support for the management capacity-building programme and is clear about its broad, practical benefits.
“The goal is to help local operational managers at these clinics to be good leaders,” she said.
The first annual report on the programme’s progress will be produced at the end of the year in December.