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Nurses picket over staff shortages at False Bay Hospital

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Hospital is “currently experiencing more than double the workload they have seen over the past five years” says health department

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Photo of protesters

Nomzamo Mngupane has been a nurse for six years. She said there have been staff shortages since 2018 and it has got worse since the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

On Friday, about 25 healthcare workers from False Bay Hospital, mostly nurses, protested for better personal protective equipment (PPE) and more staff.

Carrying placards and singing protest songs, they marched from the hospital to Main Road where they held a picket during their lunch break. Vehicles hooted in support as the protesters held up signs stating: “Employer, we need full PPEs please”, “Protect us so we protect patients”, and “The workload is killing us”.

“We are asking the Department [of Health] to supply this hospital with full PPE,” said Songezo Nompunga, a shop steward and nurse at the trauma ward. He said this must include a mask, face visor, gloves, boots, overalls and a plastic apron. He said sometimes nurses only have surgical masks and gloves.

Nompunga said they have been short-staffed since 2018, and since the Covid-19 pandemic things were getting worse. He said discussions with management and officials have made no difference. He said many nurses were sourced through agencies, but they have now chosen to work at the new centres for Covid-19, where they get contracts or better salaries. Nompunga said that staff are working overtime and shifts sometimes run over 12 hours.

Nomzamo Mngupane, a nurse for six years, said staff shortages were also made worse because some of the nurses are under quarantine (because they possibly have Covid-19). She said that some staff missed lunch to look after patients.

Mngupane is stationed at the outside testing centre where everyone entering the hospital is screened. She said that she gets one mask per week and works wearing that mask with scrubs.

Nolubabalo Mbata, a nurse working in the Covid ward, said they have been given scrubs, gowns, gloves and sometimes face shields, but they needed boots and plastic aprons.

She said that staff are expected to wash their own gowns after use at home. “They want me to use my washing machine that I’m using with my family,” she said. She is worried that she might take the virus home. Mbata has three children and a husband.

Mbata said that the shortage of staff is affecting the quality of care. On Friday she said she was the only assistant nurse in the ward and had to look after 14 patients. Before Covid-19, it was half that number.

Natalie Watlington, spokesperson for the Southern Region of the Western Cape Department of Health, said the hospital is “currently experiencing more than double the workload they have seen over the past five years”.

She said the vacancy rate at the hospital was 7% and that although there are challenges filling the nursing posts, a network of agencies are assisting them. She said that 15 staff members have tested positive.

“We understand that this is stressful for our nurses who are also working extra overtime and courageously caring for patients in spite of the risk to themselves and their families,” she said.

Watlington said that the recommended PPE is available for each area and that the stock level is sufficient.

Nompunga said that they are giving the Department 14 days to address them. If nothing happens, they will apply to strike and “down tools”.

The protest was supported by Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA).

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TOPICS:  Covid-19 Health

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Letters

Dear Editor

I refer to the above published on 22 June 2020, and would like provide further clarity on PPE and other concerns raised by staff at False Bay Hospital.

In a typical month at this time the proportion of permanent staff on duty is overall 60%, and those from agency is 40%. Permanent posts at FBH is being addressed as resources become available. At present all hospitals are facing challenges with staff shortages due to Covid-19, as some staff have been placed on special leave as they have medical problems placing them at high risk, others are quarantined should they have positive family members, and 13 so far have tested positive for Covid-19. This is an infection rate of 6%, which is similar to that of other facilities.

We have recently been given additional budget for nursing staff and are in the process of creating approximately 30 contract posts which we hope to fill rapidly. Our permanent staff are offered the opportunity to work additional hours, however there is no pressure for them to do so and we have limits in place to ensure that staff do not burn out. The normal working hour week for nurses is 40 hours.

Influenza vaccination was available to all staff and was offered to all staff. Out of 200 staff members 160 received the flu vaccine, the others elected not to take it.

We have ample stock of PPE . Some of this is supplied by the central supply point, however thousands of visors, masks, scrubs and gowns as well as sanitiser has been funded by the community through the False Bay Hospital Trust and it is so important to thank them for this, and to assure them that their donations have been put to good use protecting our staff.

Staff are provided with PPE in line with the risk area they work in, as well as the risk associated with their tasks. Staff are regularly trained and refreshed on the correct use of PPE, as well as reminded to at all times wear PPE as prescribed by National and NICD guidelines.

In each area of the hospital adequate nursing staff are on duty. For example in the Emergency Centre 10 nurses are on duty during the day and 7 at night. The number of patients seen in the Emergency Centre is currently far less than usual as a result of the lock down and covid, and on average we are seeing 50 patients per day, compared to 130 patients per day before covid. Despite the decrease in numbers we have not decreased the number of nursing staff, recognizing the additional stress of looking after high risk patients.

Decontamination is not outsourced. Besides our increased hygiene protocol, we have also appointed 6 extra cleaning staff to ensure that additional routine cleaning and thorough decontamination is performed according to protocol whenever it is indicated.

We thank you for opportunity to share insight as to the impact COVID-19 has had on our operations and how we continue to work towards overcoming the challenges on our health care system. I would like to take this opportunity thank our staff at FBH as well as our support staff for their dedication and commitment in these trying times.