Three Mpumalanga hospitals are running on skeleton staff and have shut down outpatient services as workers embark on a stay away over a spate of attacks on doctors and nurses, including Witbank Hospital staff held at gunpoint to stop them treating victims of a bar brawl.
“We are not happy with the way the safety of health worker is being treated in this province. It is not getting the attention it deserves,” says nursing trade union, Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa‘s provincial secretary Mzwandile Shongwe is quoted in a Bhekisisa report as saying.
Early Sunday morning, a mob of people from a nearby tavern entered Witbank Hospital in Emalaheni and held doctors and nurses at gunpoint demanding they stop treating victims of a fight at the bar. Hospital security was unable to contain the situation and the police were called in, according to a statement by the province’s departments of health and safety, security and liaison. “We were expected to continue working as if nothing happened,” a health worker who asked for his identity to remain anonymous is quoted in the report as saying.
The report says after workers began refusing to come to work, the hospital started to discharge patients. “The hospital is being emptied out,” one worker says. Similar shutdowns in other Mpumalanga hospitals – this has affected about 10% of the province’s hospitals – means that patients on chronic medicine, including that for HIV, have been unable to collect their tablets since Monday.
The report says very few of Mpumalanga’s healthcare facilities provide sufficient security for its employees, a 2016/17 report from the health oversight body, the Office of Health Standards Compliance (OHSC) found. The province scored 28% for the category that looked at staff safety and wellness.
Meanwhile, at Mpumalanga’s Tintswalo and Amajuba Memorial hospitals, workers say that the threat isn’t from attackers, it’s from the very buildings they work in. The report says in the OHSC report, Tintswalo Hospital scored an overall mark of 52%. The OHSC found that the provincial health facilities it surveyed lacked maintenance plans and that budgets showed that some facilities were skimping on regular upkeep. Recommendations made by safety and hazard inspectors had also not been implemented.
Nurses at Motherwell Healthcare Centre in Port Elizabeth have staged a sit-in – they are demanding that security at the facility be improved, reports Groundup. The sit-in by about 100 people follows a patient attacking a nurse on Saturday. The nurse was treating the patient’s stab wound. After attacking the nurse, he also attacked two security guards who came to help when they heard her screaming. The patient was then arrested.
The report says a nurse who asked not to be named said working the night shift was a challenge. “We have a life-threatening situation at this facility because of patients who come here drunk and most of them are aggressive. The department should allow security guards in when we are attending to people who are drunk,” she said.
But, the report quotes Eastern Cape Health Department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo as saying that the attack did not happen because of relaxed security. He said that because of the confidential nature of health-worker-patient interactions, the department could not place security guards inside consulting rooms and operating theatres.
Kupelo did however say that the department had a duty to protect everyone on its premises and it will continue to ensure there is a safe environment for both staff and patients. “We would like to call on patients to stop attacking staff because there will be no one to help them if our nurses and doctors are too scared to treat them,” he said.
He said counselling services had been offered to the attacked security guards and nurse. Kupelo also said the protest was about more than Saturday’s incident. He said the nurses were debriefed and “we realised now they raising issues that are not related”. He appealed to nurses to return to work.
The report says Motherwell clinic has about 100 workers, 47 of whom are professional nurses. A patient in a wheelchair said she was visiting the facility for the second consecutive day and no one had yet told her what was taking place at the health care facility. “I take my medication from this clinic but I am now defaulting and that will obviously worsen my situation. I feel pity for the nurses because of their situation. The community should always come together and protect nurses against violent people,” she said. She did not give her name.
There were patients in the facility who did not want to talk to the media but were visibly in pain. Some were in the company of family members who complained about having no money to go to either Livingstone or Dora Nginza Hospitals.
The report says the Motherwell clinic is the only one in the township that opens for 24 hours. It is also a place where referral letters are issued to hospitals for further treatment. Kupelo said the action by the nurses may negatively affect patients who need health-care but cannot afford to travel to other areas.