With clinical departments in the Eastern Cape’s hospitals battling severe and dangerous staff shortages, doctors are doubling up as porters and general assistants, wards are closed and children die as access to intensive care units becomes impossible, surgeries are delayed for up to two years and dire calls for more appointments are met with a resounding silence. Daily Maverick reports that the studies of students in their final year of medical school will also be interrupted now as specialists have declined to allow them access to the hospitals for their clinical rotations.
Desperate doctors at public hospitals in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), fighting clinical and nursing vacancy rates as high as 60% in some departments, have, in an unprecedented move, declined to allow medical students to do their clinical rotation at the three hospitals in the city, saying they simply do not have the time to teach them. “It was a painful decision to take,” one of the senior doctors said. “Training is one of the backbones of what we do. But we had no choice.”
DM reports that it is a last and desperate move for some of the province’s elite specialists, some holding chairs at medical schools, who are battling extreme staff shortages in their units.
DM reports that 8,000 nurses and other temporary workers who have been helping in the hospitals with cleaning and nursing and who were being paid with “disaster funds” are facing the termination of their contracts at the end of March, but, even with their help, in some units doctors and nurses are doing dishes, cleaning, and wheeling patients to theatre.
“We have some of the most highly qualified and expensive porters in the world in this hospital,” one doctor said. “They all have MBChB degrees.”
DM reports that the Eastern Cape Health Department is adamant that the workers cannot be absorbed into the province’s public health system as there is no money to pay them. Last week Premier Oscar Mabuyane suggested that the nurses will be used to strengthen the province’s vaccination teams.
The after-effects of two deadly waves of the pandemic are severe. “Many of our nurses died of COVID-19. Many who fell seriously ill resigned and many who were close to retirement age resigned during COVID-19,” one doctor said. “They haven’t been replaced.”
“We have huge problems,” another added. “But this is a problem that has existed for years. It wasn’t just caused by COVID-19.”
The SA Federation of Trade Unions Nelson Mandela Bay regional secretary, Mzikazi Nkata, told DM that at several primary healthcare facilities poor infrastructure and a shortage of staff was forcing personnel to do things like hand patients their medication through the fence. This had led to long queues.
“We understand over 300 frontline workers have lost their lives during COVID-19 and those workers are not replaced by the health system. This means healthcare workers are already facing all the ramifications that come with being understaffed.
“There are clinics that lost pharmacists and pharmacy assistants and we are asking ourselves who is distributing medication in those clinics. We want the department to absorb COVID-19 contract workers to all funded posts as we are still in the middle of a pandemic and there are already warning signs of a third wave.
“And if those contract workers are not being absorbed, it will cause a huge disaster for service delivery and astonishing numbers of COVID-19 fatalities in the Eastern Cape. All other provinces have renewed contracts and absorbed COVID-19 workers and we are asking ourselves, why is the Eastern Cape not doing the same?” Nkata said.
Meanwhile, DM reports that Eastern Cape Health MEC Nomakhosasana Meth said they were reviewing staffing issues and would start at the “big head” of the head office. “It is my desire to have every critical post in the department filled; however, we have to ensure that we get the right people into the right places.”
Asked about the role of the unions at the province’s hospitals, she said she was “talking to head office”. “I am currently engaging with staff at head office and I go around the province meeting our stakeholders, including organised labour, so that we can have a conversation and that I understand their concerns.
“This week I am organising a virtual two-day strategy planning session and I have invited all stakeholders to be part of the session so that we can sit together, make one another to understand the challenges the department is facing.”
She said her top priority would be to migrate the department to an electronic record-keeping system to be in a better position to fight medico-legal claims.
DM reports that Meth’s other priorities include addressing staffing issues, reducing long queues at health facilities, reskilling staff, promoting partnerships with the corporate sector, tertiary institutions and state parastatals, improving the cleanliness in facilities, ensuring drug availability at clinics and hospitals, and the “re-engineering of the department”.
[link url="https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-03-23-more-than-300-covid-related-deaths-and-health-staff-shortages-push-eastern-cape-hospitals-to-the-edge/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=First%20Thing%20Wednesday%2024%20March%202021&utm_content=First%20Thing%20Wednesday%2024%20March%202021+CID_5a687230c42183e543d514f00825b459&utm_source=TouchBasePro&utm_term=More%20than%20300%20Covid-related%20deaths%20and%20health%20staff%20shortages%20push%20Eastern%20Cape%20hospitals%20to%20the%20edge"]Full Daily Maverick report (Open access)[/link]
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[link url="https://www.medicalbrief.co.za/archives/eastern-cape-health-has-called-in-sick/"]Eastern Cape Health has called in sick[/link]
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