| PORT ELIZABETH

“Patients are suffering” due to severe staff shortage, says NEHAWU

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“Stop the politics and work together with us” Eastern Cape Health Department tells union

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Photo of a hospital sign

Livingstone Hospital Emergency Unit in Port Elizabeth is struggling with a severe shortage of staff. Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani

  • 52 staff tested positive and one nurse has died.
  • Non-clinical staff assisted until their overtime pay was cut says union.
  • 59 nurses have been appointed and nine doctors and 100 general assistants are in the process of being appointed, says provincial health department.

The National Education Allied Health Workers Union (NEHAWU) has criticised the Eastern Cape Department of Health over conditions in the Emergency Unit of Livingstone Hospital, Port Elizabeth. The department has responded that the union must stop pointing fingers and rather help fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sweetness Stokwe, NEHAWU regional secretary at Thabo Moshoeshoe region, said: “Since 2018, the hospital has been faced with a shortage of staff. Many senior managers were suspended for fraud and corruption. While some of the posts were vacant because of retirement, deaths and promotions.”

“This unit has 30 staff members – 23 for day shift and seven for night shift. But now there are only six staff members for the day shift, because the rest are sick. In total, 52 staff members at this hospital are Covid-19 positive, one nurse is dead, and another nurse is in ICU. Some of them are in self isolation at home and others in hospital,” said Stokwe.

Dr Litha Matiwane, provincial deputy director general for health care services, confirmed the figures.

“Porters, clerks and kitchen staff used to assist in this unit, but the termination of overtime has left the staff with low morale,” said Stokwe.

“Patients are suffering because the staff members are no longer overloading themselves with work. They just focus on their jobs and only serve emergency cases,” said Stokwe.

“On Thursday we visited the hospital after the media reports had surfaced that the Emergency Unit was closed, because it is too dirty. The unit was never closed. Instead, the services were affected after the department did not approve the overtime money for the staff.”

“I inspected the hospital and what I saw there was shocking and disgusting. There are blood stains and papers on the floor. The Covid-19 waste is uncollected next to the [Emergency] Unit.”

“There is no proper plan and strategy at this hospital and the hospital management says it is too busy to have meetings with us. Both the Sarah Baartman District and Nelson Metro Hospitals are in serious crisis.

“We want the provincial management to come up with solutions … The hospitals lack proper PPE [personal protective equipment]. Useless aprons are being forced on our members and that leaves them exposed to Covid-19,” said Stokwe.

A staff members at the hospital who asked to stay anonymous said: “The management doesn’t care. Only the specialist doctors get quality PPE here. The rest of the staff gets substandard PPE.”

“We started to experience staff infections at surgical and medical wards. Then many staff members went on self isolation. Nurses are washing the walls and mop the floors because other staff members are sick,” she said.

“At 5B, the females’ medical ward … it was discovered that a Covid-19 patient was admitted in that ward — not at wards designated for Covid-19 cases.

“Our [surgical] theater also needs to be closed, deep cleaned and fumigated. We have about ten staff members who tested positive in that unit alone.”

Provincial health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said, “This is not the time to point fingers … NEHAWU should stop the politics and work together with us. This virus knows no politics, union or Department of Labour.”

“Non-sterile gloves and sterile gowns have been delivered on Wednesday. Soft services are being rendered. The casualty [area] has not been cleaned.

“Top management was suspended. 59 nurses have been appointed for Covid-19 on a one-year contract. The department is in the process of appointing nine doctors for Covid-19. 100 general assistants posts are being processed. The process is unfolding and a memo in this regard was signed last week,” he said.

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TOPICS:  Covid-19 Health Unions

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