Massive clinical and administrative staff shortages, access to water for only three hours a day and an emotionally exhausted frontline team – these are just a few of the many challenges facing the staff at Hewu Hospital in Whittlesea, near Queenstown.
On a recent oversight visit to the hospital, I was shocked to discover how desperate staff shortages have impacted on the functionality of the hospital. Medical and surgical wards have had to be amalgamated, and these still only have one professional nurse, one enrolled nurse and one enrolled nursing assistance per shift.
If one nurse falls ill, there are no replacements. The situation has been exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen staff stretched beyond their limits. At one point, thirty-five staff members at the hospital had tested positive for the disease. They have no social worker or counsellor to offer psycho-social support.
The only support that the Health Department has given the hospital is forty-five community healthcare workers. They have received no doctors, no professional nurses, no enrolled nurses and no enrolled nursing assistants, despite there being many vacant funded posts for such positions on the current staff organogram.
The hospital has followed all recruitment processes to fill vacant funded posts, but the process has been held up for months by the Provincial Cost Containment Committee (PCCC), which has failed dismally to prioritise crucial posts which could bring hospitals huge relief during this pandemic.
While this committee procrastinates in their ivory tower, patients die daily from inadequate health care.
Perhaps the greatest indictment on the Health Department is that this hospital only has access to water from 8am to 11am, six days of the week. They have no water at all on a Thursday.
How are medical and clinical staff expected to practise infection control and prevention protocols without running water? The situation has impacted very negatively on staff retention.
I have written to the MEC for Health to request that she re-examine the hospital organogram and approach the PCCC to fill these posts as a matter of urgency, so that this hospital is able to function more effectively. Furthermore, I will request that the water shortage is attended to immediately, as a hospital cannot function without a constant and reliable water supply.
Poor planning, weak leadership and bureaucracy have brought the Department of Health to its knees. Sadly, it is the frontline staff and the patients that bear the brunt of these failures – many pay with their lives.
Issued by Jane Cowley (MPL) Eastern Cape Shadow MEC for Health