Town Hill patients without care

2010-05-13 00:00

TOWN Hill Psychiatric Hospital’s registered nurses and matrons have taken sick leave since Monday as a result of a long-standing wage dispute, leaving mentally disturbed patients in the hands of assistant nurses, who are not trained to look after them alone.

The Health Department has failed to pay staff their occupation-specific dispensation (OSD) since 2007.

On Monday, male wards G and H had two assistant nurses, while on Tuesday only assistants were left in charge.

The Witness can reveal that the two wards had one male assistant nurse and two female nurses caring for 14 mental patients.

Hillside C Ward also had assistants on Tuesday, while Impala G and H, which are both female wards, had no professional nurses on Tuesday and only one on Monday. All those on duty were too scared to talk to The Witness.

One assistant nurse, who asked that her name be withheld, said the few who are at work are taking strain because of the workload.

“Should the worst happen here, none of us are able to deal with mental patients. We have no skills and no psychiatric training. You can never know what a mentally disturbed person is thinking.

“We’re only two females and one male, who can be easily overpowered by these patients. We haven’t heard anything from the managers as to when this will end,” said the assistant.

In March, the staff picketed in an attempt to pressure the Health Department to pay the OSD.

At the time, the employees said that the 2007 agreement stipulated that psychiatric nurses would be given a once-off payment as they fall under the specialised stream.

But the staff have since heard nothing and have vowed to go on a proper strike on Monday if the department does not attend to their grievances immediately.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union shopsteward at the hospital, Zolile Dube, said on Monday that a delegation sent to head office to discuss the issue could not give a clear-cut answer as to whether the workers will receive their money.

“After the Monday meeting with the delegation, people took sick leave. This is bad because the remaining people at the hospital are not qualified and the few qualified are taking strain.

“I have heard that there’s a threat of a full-blown strike on Monday if the workers’ grievances are not attended to,” said Dube.

Provincial health spokesperson Chris Maxon said the department hopes to receive a response from the national Health Department next week.

He said that if it is found that the absent staff were not sick and no prior arrangements were made to cover their posts, leave without pay will be implemented.

He said funds to pay the OSD must come from the national budget. “The threat to strike is beyond the control of the provincial department, and the national Health Department has been requested to give a directive on the issue,” said Maxon.

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