A quick fix for hospital management?

Updated: May 22

A case study about Chris Hani Baragwanath

What makes the big machine that is Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital tick? Who are the people that make it work, and what exactly do they do?

Prof. Karl von Holdt, Director of the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at Wits, will be tackling this conundrum and other issues during the annual AJ Orenstein lecture, entitled "Towards the clinician-led management team: a strategy for fixing hospitals?" The lecture takes place on Monday, 29 October 2012, at 6pm, in the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital Auditorium, Wits Medical School, 7 York Road, Parktown. The media is welcome to attend.

Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital is iconic. It may be the biggest hospital in the world, extraordinarily complex and frequently a source of conflicts. It serves the largest concentration of lower and middle class workers in the mainspring of the South African economy and it is arguably attempting to perform an impossible task.

How does one make such a monolith work? It is several decades since Prof. Thomas McEwan argued authoritatively that a hospital with more than 600 beds would prove to be unmanageable. The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital is five times this size.

Von Holdt and a team put together by the National Labour, Economic and Development Institute (Naledi) have for many years looked at how to make ‘Bara’ work and he has uncovered extraordinary information.

Von Holdt has an in-depth understanding of the public health landscape. He has done some ground-breaking research in the area and has used his insights to make significant contributions to the National Planning Commission of South Africa to which he was appointed by the president.

Von Holdt will be talking about his and others’ experiences in transforming the functioning of Prof. Martin Smith’s Surgical Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital over a period of about 10 years. The project focused on replacing the fragmented and highly centralised silo system of management, dominated by administrators, with the delegation of considerable management powers to an integrated team led by clinicians. This produced systemic changes in the way the division functioned, with positive impact on clinical processes and patient care. The transformation strategy rested on a combination of clinical, managerial and sociological expertise.

The Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, has talked openly about re-engineering the health system. This lecture is designed to be not only erudite, but topical. At a time when the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences is struggling to deal with a rapidly imploding health system, his insights will be very valuable and ought not to be missed.

Von Holdt has been a senior researcher at SWOP since 2007. Prior to that, he was at Naledi, before which he was the editor of the South African Labour Bulletin. He has published "Transition from below: forging trade unionism and workplace change in South Africa" (2003), "Beyond the apartheid workplace: studies in transition" (2005) co-edited with Eddie Webster, and co-authored "Conversations with Bourdieu: the Johannesburg moment" (2012) with Michael Burawoy.

His current research interests include the functioning of state institutions, health system functioning, collective violence and associational life, citizenship and civil society. Von Holdt started his working life teaching literacy to trade union members in the hostels and informal settlements of Cape Town in the early 1980s. He has also served as co-ordinator of COSATU’s September Commission on the Future of Trade Unions (1996-97), and as a Director on the Board of the South African Post Office (1997-2003).


© 2016 by SWOP

t: +27 (0) 11 717 4460   |   info@swop.org.za

  • Facebook Black Round
  • Twitter Black Round
  • YouTube - Black Circle