Too few pharmacists

2010-01-21 00:00

NORTHDALE Hospital is facing an exodus of pharmacists because of what they say are poor working conditions and a lack of incentives.

Provincial health spokesman Chris Maxon revealed this yesterday after he had received a query about patients who waited for hours in long queues for medication in the hospital’s pharmacy section.

Late last year, Health MEC Dr Sbongiseni Dhlomo promised to address the provincial hospital’s lack of pharmacy space and to bring in more pharmacists. His promise came after many patients complained about poor service delivery at the hospital. Dhlomo identified lack of pharmacy space and the inability to recruit staff as the causes of the problem.

People interviewed at the hospital said they believe that departmental officials make promises just to get the media off their backs.

Recently, hundreds of patients waited in long queues for their medication at Northdale Hospital.

During a visit to the hospital by The Witness two weeks ago, two dispensing hatches in the pharmacy were open, with the patients saying that the second one was opened only after 2 pm.

An elderly diabetic who asked not to be named said she arrived at the hospital just after 5 am. She had a small cut on her left foot and because of her health condition the cut had become septic.

After seeing a doctor she was instructed to collect her medication from the pharmacy. Her foot was bandaged and she had a drip on her hand.

“This is very wrong. I’m in excruciating pain and I’ve been sitting here for hours. Where are the promises made by Dhlomo?

“We put people in high positions to serve us and what do they do? They look down on us as if we’re nobodies,” said the patient.

She said two dispensing hatches were opened after 2 pm and 30 minutes later one was closed again.

Two elderly patients were lying on the floor of the corridor waiting for their turn in the queue.

One was in a wheelchair, but said she had to lie on the cold floor to relieve her pain after sitting for hours.

Jamiel Ahmed, who was waiting for his baby daughter’s medication, said he confronted the public relations officer.

“I went straight to her office and all she could say was that there was nothing she could do and that I must report to the hospital manager.

“A man at the pharmacy section said they were short-staffed by five people.

“What did the MEC mean when he said he will employ more staff for hospital pharmacies? These people are playing games with us because you confront them today and they pretend to rectify things and a day later things fall apart again,” Ahmed said.

Maxon admitted there are a “few” challenges in the pharmacy section, mainly the shortage of staff.

He said that in the past seven months about 12 pharmacists and two assistants have left the hospital.

“It is hard to replace them because of the scarcity of pharmacists in the whole country.

“The unavailability of certain allowances at the hospital has a negative impact and as a result the hospital has lost pharmacists to hospitals with enough staff and less workload, posts such as chief pharmacist and rural allowance.

“Some have gone to the private sector,” Maxon said.

However, he denied that on the day in question only one dispensing hatch was open between 8 am and 2.25 pm.

He said there were two windows opened from 8 am to 12 pm, and from 12:05 pm to 1 pm one window was open because the locum pharmacist, who works for four hours, had left.

“From 1 pm to 1:45 pm, one window was opened because one pharmacist had to go for lunch and from 1:45 pm to 2:30 pm one window was opened as the other pharmacist, who was manning the window during lunch time, had to go for lunch.”

He also denied that the pharmacist section is short-staffed by five people. “The department is head-hunting pharmacists to fill the posts. “Due to the workload at the hospital even the existing pharmacists are planning to take transfers to other hospitals with better working conditions,” Maxon said.

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