Nurses without PPE will not be allowed to care for patients – Mhize

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Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize has affirmed his department's commitment that no nurse will be allowed to care for patients without the appropriate protective equipment as the country battles the spread of COVID-19, reports News24. Mkhize was speaking at a candlelight ceremony in commemoration of International Nurses Day at King Edward Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal. MECs for health and some healthcare workers from all provinces took part in the ceremony via Zoom.

Mkhize said the pandemic had magnified the cracks and exposed the impact of unequal distribution of resources between public and private sector. The department, though, remained resolute in its commitment to ensure that health professionals were provided with all the necessary personal protective equipment (PPEs) and the requisite tools of the trade.

"As we celebrate our nurses and midwives, I would like to affirm our commitment to ensuring that no nurse will be allowed to care for patients without appropriate protective equipment, be it at community level during screening and testing or in a health facility," the minister said.

All provinces were finalising their recruitments for day-to-day health services and case management in preparation for the anticipated surge of the virus, the minister said. The department was also committed to supporting healthcare workers to deal with any immediate physical and mental health issues emanating from the pandemic.

"In this regard, we have prioritised development and the implementation of a comprehensive programme to care for the carers. Through this programme, our frontline health workers are provided with a safety net across the continuum of care.”

Nursing union, Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) believes that the decision to re-open the Netcare St Augustine's and Kingsway hospitals was premature. The union is quoted in an IoL report as saying that unless they received an investigative report into how the outbreak of COVID-19 spread at the facilities, Denosa affiliates will be told not to return to duty. They also want the safety of their members to be guaranteed.

At the weekend, Netcare's Craig Murphy, said permission to re-open the hospitals was taken following advice from the KwaZulu-Natal Health Department. “Since Netcare St Augustine’s and Netcare Kingsway hospitals were closed for new patient admissions in April, Netcare has been engaging and working closely, and on an ongoing basis, with the KZN Health on all matters pertaining to COVID-19 at the hospitals. Last week, the hospitals had already further enhanced their disinfecting and decontaminating programmes of all the facilities on their premises. Doctors at Netcare St Augustine’s and Netcare Kingsway hospitals will also again be consulting from their rooms as from Monday," Murphy said.

But Denosa's Mandla Shabangu said there had been no transparency as to what caused the outbreak of COVID-19 to spread at both medical facilities. Shabangu said they were concerned that nurses and other essential workers could still be at risk if the cause of the outbreak had not been identified and attended to.

KwaZulu-Natal Health will be working on protocols to mitigate the closure of facilities when medical staff is infected. News24 reports that this is according to Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, after 16 people, including two babies as well as doctors and nurses, tested positive for COVID-19 at the General Justice Gizenga Mpanzi Memorial Hospital (formerly Stanger Hospital), which resulted in it being shut this week.

"We decided to immediately stop people from coming to the hospital to manage the facility as well as to understand the extent of the infection. We have done that. As soon as we have cleaned it up and have been able to test everyone, then we will re-open it." Simelane-Zulu said this protocol might change going forward as COVID-19 infections peaked in South Africa.

"This will not be the protocol all the time. We are continuously going to have infections at hospitals and different community areas. We are right now working on a protocol on how to move forward in such an instance."

She added in future, only wards could be restricted.

The report says shortly before the closure of the hospital, nursing staff went on strike after they claimed not enough had been done to protect them. "We condemn the action by staff. We are going to investigate as a department to understand what led to that kind of action.It is a worry when health workers, in particular, begin to be infected. We decided as a department on the training of nurses (at the hospital) to see if PPE (personal protective equipment) is being utilised correctly,” Simelane-Zulu is quoted in the report as saying.

Eastern Cape Health has, meanwhile, bowed to pressure by unions to shut down Zwide Clinic in Port Elizabeth. Groundup reports that the closure on Monday morning comes after the death of a nurse a few weeks ago and 11 staff members testing positive for COVID-19 on Saturday. Staff at the clinic have been demanding that they all be tested and that the clinic be closed for fumigation. A few nurses who had already been tested are still waiting for their results at home.

EC Health said that closing of the clinic would leave many patients without healthcare services.

Health unions said that the department’s COVID-19 Standard Operating Plan (SOP) was negligent and that the lack of PPE posed an even greater risk to both the clinic and the Zwide community.

Mziyanda Twani, provincial secretary at the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) said a few weeks ago a nurse went home because she was feeling exhausted. She took a nap and never woke up, he said. She was later tested and found to be Covid-19 positive. “The staff demanded that everyone be tested for Covid-19 and the clinic cleaned. However, the cleaning company only cleaned the pharmacy where the deceased member worked. They did not clean the entire building. This was on the weekend of 2 and 3 May. The rest of the staff went back to work on 4 May, even though they did not yet know the results of their tests,” he said.

“We have a serious shortage of PPE. We do not have enough gloves or masks. We wear one mask for the entire day and there are more than 500 patients coming in and out per day. This is a serious risk to us and the patients. We are happy that the clinic is closed but the department must make sure that the patients get their treatments,” Twani said.

Full News24 report

Full IoL report

Full News24 report

Full Groundup report

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