Patients who are admitted to Kariega Provincial Hospital (Uitenhage) in the Eastern Cape at night are only attended to the next day because there are no clerks to register them or provide doctors with patient records, reports News24.
News24 writes that nurses wear rubbish bags because there are no aprons, and one porter wheels patients, dead or alive, up and down the six floors of the hospital. This is according to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), which has blown the whistle on a critical shortage of staff and personal protective equipment (PPE). It wants heads to roll.
The union claims vacancies at the hospital have not been filled since 2017 and that it's only getting worse because staff who resign, retire, or die are not replaced.
The hospital is so understaffed, they say, that health workers are unable to take leave until sick colleagues recover and return to work.
"As per the organogram, there must be clerks working shifts. That is not happening at the hospital. Our members are facing many challenges whereby they are overworked and anxiety is too much," deputy provincial secretary Sweetness Tokwe alleges.
“The situation is really bad, and we call on the department to act on the management of this hospital because hospitals were given authority to appoint. Yet so far, it is only Dora Nginza Hospital that we have seen implementing that and hired 88 nurses.”
She adds that it is clear there is a sufficient supply of PPEs at the hospital, but that it's kept in storage.
"We say this because whenever our office complains to management about lack of PPEs, we see hospitals immediately giving out PPEs, meaning that there are [PPEs] there. It's just that people are lazy to do their jobs."
According to News24, the Eastern Cape health department has confirmed a critical shortage of aprons and has promised to address the problem.
But department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo has denied allegations of a vacancy backlog, saying that the posts are being filled.
"The Uitenhage (Kariega) Provincial Hospital pharmacy has confirmed they have all the essential PPE. The only item in short supply is the apron, which the team will be sending there in the next day," he said.
According to Kupelo, the use of PPE is guided by universal infection prevention control protocols.
“The department has adequate stock to protect staff looking after COVID-19 patients and to protect the general staff from contracting COVID in their space of work. Staff are encouraged to report any shortage of PPE to their facility management who will then activate the provincial team to send stock if it is unavailable through the normal supply channels."
Eastern Cape Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth said she would probe reports that there were no clerks working night shifts.
"I am hearing this for the first time, so I will call hospital management and find out about clerks not working night shift, but the issues of staff shortages at hospitals in Nelson Mandela Bay are really our priority and we will move swiftly to tackle the problems."
The department previously said that when staff were sick and unable to work, it crippled hospitals' ability to offer quality service.
The department’s epidemiology report, last released on 14 July, shows that 150 health workers in the province were hospitalised for COVID-19 this year. It also shows that 12 187 health workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, and that 315 have died.
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