Volunteers step in

2010-08-23 00:00

PRO-ACTIVE planning by senior medical personnel in the Pietermaritzburg area, combined with a spirit of volunteerism among individual residents, aid organisations and non-striking medical staff, has seen the potential impact of the public sector strike on newborns and sick children in the city’s public sector hospitals reduced as far as possible.

The first of three teams of volunteers, comprising women residents of the city, arrived at Grey’s Hospital on Saturday morning for a three-hour morning shift during which they helped to feed and bathe children and babies, and clean wards. Two further teams were expected yesterday and today.

Dr Neil McKerrow, executive committee member of the South African Paediatric Association, said that despite the successful transfer of paediatric patients from Edendale and Grey’s last week, and help from occupational therapists, physiotherapists and secretaries, by Friday it was clear that extra hands would be needed at Grey’s.

Dr Cindy Stevens was given the task of organising volunteers.

“A medicine round which would normally take 45 minutes with a full nursing contingent was taking up to three hours,” said McKerrow.

In one case, a two-year-old TB meningitis patient who had been fed in the morning was not fed again until 7 pm. “That’s one of the consequences of the strike — children lying in dirty nappies and not fed timeously, not because no one is aware of them, but because people are performing multiple roles,” said McKerrow.

A decision was taken late on Thursday morning to move children from wards at Edendale to Grey’s Hospital in order to offer patients a consolidated “doctors’ service”.

Both hospitals were without nursing staff by midday on Thursday after instances of intimidation at Edendale on Wednesday night and at Grey’s on Thursday morning.

“Despite intimidation, nurses have still, on occasion, managed to report for duty and this has been an incredible bonus, said McKerrow.

He said about 50 children, including 20 newborns, one critically ill child and mothers, were transferred in three trips from Edendale to Grey’s in a disaster bus with police escort. One doctor used her own vehicle to transport equipment and bedding. By 7 pm, all patients were settled at Grey’s.

Since the strike started, both Edendale and Grey’s have discharged those patients considered well enough to be treated at home — about 23 were discharged from Edendale before the transfer, said McKerrow.

About 19 patients at Grey’s were discharged. McKerrow said the Red Cross Air Mercy Service made available its vehicle, and driver Meshack Neheniah cancelled his weekend plans to help take patients to their homes.

Local resident John Inglis transported patients and their mothers as far afield as Nqutu and Bergville, while John Roberts transported some children to a place of safety in Richmond.

McKerrow said no one knows how long the strike will last. so the hospital is “planning for the worst” and hopes to further reduce numbers of patients.

“But we can’t forget that there are still sick children out there who need care and hospitalisation,” he added.

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