Thursday, 13 June, 2024
HomeA FocusIncreasing violent attacks put state healthcare workers at risk

Increasing violent attacks put state healthcare workers at risk

Medical staff are increasingly coming under attack countrywide, from both criminals and patients, with some institutions restricting access for fear of violence, writes MedicalBrief.

The situation is particularly dire in Gauteng, where health workers have endured more than 60 attacks from patients and angry relatives since January 2022, prompting the province to implement various measures to help personnel deal with and respond to the violence, according to Gauteng MEC for Health & Wellness Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko.

In the North West last week, four armed men allegedly entered a boardroom where doctors at the hospital were holding a morning briefing, pointed guns at them and demanded their phones, money and any other valuables. A TimesLIVE report said MEC of Health in North West Madoda Sambatha condemned the armed robbery at the Tshepong Hospital in Klerksdorp last week.

Department of Health spokesperson in North West Tebogo Lekgethwane said Sambatha questioned the security company and demanded to know how men were able to pass through the security gates with guns.

The security company said everyone entering the hospital premises is checked but was unable explain how the men had entered the facility with guns, Lekgethwane said.

“One of the men was fortunately apprehended still within the hospital premises. Meanwhile, a debriefing session was held with the affected doctors with a view to provide counselling services.”

The South African Medical Association condemned the incident and raised concerns about the safety of doctors and healthcare professionals in the workplace.

The association said due to poor safety and security in hospitals and clinics, the lives of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are frequently at risk.

“Assault, attempted rape and rape in health facilities are reported frequently. The association has been actively engaging health authorities and correctional services in each of the provinces on these acts of violence.”

It said a survey it had conducted had shown an increase in violence against healthcare workers in the decade from 2012 to 2022.

“These were mainly in the public sector.”

It said many doctors and medical staff are now fearful for their safety and find themselves in a situation of moral distress when it comes to providing care to patients under these adverse conditions.

In the Western Cape, where security services at the Hanover Park Day Hospital are limited to safeguard staff due to gang violence, Joshua van Reenen (19) who was allegedly refused entry, died on the pavement

The report also said that security services at the facility gates are required to limit entry if no service is available.

Since 2018, the Hanover Park Community Health Clinic only operates from 07am to 7pm after the Health Department determined that trauma unit staff could not be adequately protected on a 24-hour basis.

Operational hours were reduced to safeguard the safety of staff due to gang violence, while after-hour emergency care is offered at the Heideveld Emergency Centre, said Monique Johnstone, communications officer for the provincial Department of Health.

Meanwhile, the new measures to be implemented will include, among others, improving the profiling of admissions so that attending staff have access to patient history and are aware of any underlying conditions, as well as the installation of CCTV cameras at strategic locations for monitoring purposes.

A number of attacks have been committed by mentally ill patients, with Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital having had 21 assaults on staff: a number of nurses were punched in the face and a security guard was hit in the groin, reports News24, while there were seven attacks on staff at Chris Hani Baragwanath, including two nurses and a speech therapist who were bitten.

Most of the incidents happened at Weskoppies  (21), Carletonville Hospital (nine) and Far East Rand Hospital (nine), Thelle Mogoerane Hospital (four), and Kopanong Hospital (three).

Five staff at Far East Rand were also bitten by patients.

Angry relatives were another danger to staff. At Bertha Gxowa Hospital, a nurse was punched in the face at casualty by escorts of the patient demanding immediate attention for their injured friend.

And this week, a man appeared in court after assaulting a nurse in a Tzaneen clinic because she had told him to join the queue, reports TimesLIVE. He will remain in custody until next week, when he will plead guilty, said the Limpopo Health Department.

The man had demanded immediate attention, but when the busy nurse asked him to wait in the queue, he apparently attempted to hit her with a brick before being stopped by other patients. 

The injured nurse was taken to Van Velden Hospital.

“Our goal is to minimise, if not eradicate, such incidents in our facilities,” Nkomo-Ralehoko said.

“We have to work with healthcare workers and other stakeholders, such as hospital boards, clinic committees and the patients themselves, to curb attacks inside our facilities. The safety of our staff, including patients remains a priority.”

And in the Western Cape, the provincial Health Department is reviewing reports forming part of an investigation after the death of Van Reenen who was allegedly refused entry by security staff to the Hanover Park Day Hospital in January.

He had apparently been shot at about 5pm and managed to run to the hospital, where security officers at the trauma unit allegedly refused to open the gate for him. He later died on the pavement.

His mother, Gaynor Hoesar, told News24 that finding her child’s lifeless body on the pavement was still fresh in her memory.

“Security staff refused him help, and it doesn't make it any better knowing that he died on the street and not in the hospital. Help was refused at the gate.”

She believed her son’s life could have been saved. “The department knows the type of environment we are living in. Our children are shot at every single day. How can they refuse a child?”

However, the hospital said none of the doctors on duty was aware of a patient who had arrived with a gunshot wound.

It said records showed that on the day in question, 22 emergency patients were treated in the trauma unit, while 54 non-emergency patients were treated.

“Our medical team was on duty but no one was made aware of the person needing help.”

Johnson said an investigation was under way, with management reviewing all reports.


News24 article – Western Cape health dept reviews reports after dying teen allegedly refused medical care (Open access)


TimesLIVE article – Impatient man ‘intends to plead guilty’ for beating nurse who told him to join queue (Open access)


IOL article – Patients and relatives have bitten, beaten up or robbed Gauteng health staff 61 times in just over a year (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Gunshot admissions to Groote Schuur doubled in past 8 years


Violence turning the Western Cape into a ‘war-zone’


Cape Town paramedic shot while under SAPS escort


WATCH: A trauma team on the battlefield of the Cape Flats





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