The medical profession has emerged from the battering of COVID-19 scarred and shaken – exhausted and overworked; in many cases, under-resourced and under-appreciated, and frequently, subjected to various forms of violence from not just patients but also from outside.
Adding to their burden is the ongoing stream of crime victims admitted to hospitals. Murder, rape and gender-based violence (GBV) are a daily reality in the country. Trade unions representing most healthcare providers say these workers face the brunt of this violence, working within an already stretched healthcare system.
Health e-News reports that the crime statistics from January to March this year show that 1,107 people more people were killed compared with 2021 for the same period: an increase of 22% in murders, with sexual offences rising by 13%.
South African Medical Association (SAMA) spokesperson Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa said crime has become a major health crisis, negatively affecting the already struggling public healthcare system.
The psychological burden
“The impact is largely psychological because healthcare workers are exposed to gross outcomes of violence and need psychological support. Second, the burden of disease is increased, meaning more work within a stressed healthcare workforce,” said Mzukwa, adding that there was limited mental health support for healthcare workers exposed to trauma.
“There is little or no support for these staff, little or no debriefing after attending to a traumatic case. The counselling infrastructure has almost collapsed,” he said.
‘Crime adds to the squeeze’
Democratic Nursing Organisation (DENOSA) communications manager Sibongiseni Delihlazo concurred with Mzukwa, saying daily crime and their consequences for victims and thus the healthcare system added further strain.
“We live in a country that does not have enough resources to cater for its citizens, so when you have crime as an additional problem, it squeezes the fragile healthcare system even further,” said Delihlazo, “because most victims of these criminal activities end up at hospitals and clinics, overcrowding the system.
“Crime is a man-made disaster for the country because criminality is a man-made phenomenon.
“South Africa also has a high vehicle accident rate, with the victims increasing the pressure on the health system.”
At boiling point
Complicating the pressure was that healthcare workers are also often themselves victims of violent crime.
Earlier this year, an assistant nurse was shot dead by her ex-partner while on duty at Tembisa Hospital in Gauteng.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says violence against health workers is unacceptable, compromising the quality of care and putting healthcare provision at risk.
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