Healthcare workers at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto downed tools on Wednesday night and on Thursday morning over the inadequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) when they work with suspected as well as confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus patients.
Since the country started recording a massive downward trend in daily infection cases – which went down from more than 13 000 cases a day at the height of the local infection in June and July to about 2 000 daily recently – disgruntled and worried workers at the hospital told City Press they feared for their lives because of the high exposure levels to the virus.
“Initially, when the Covid-19 cases in the Soweto area and around the country were very high, we demanded that they give everyone working at the hospital full PPE.
“The reason being that we’ve got Covid-19 wards and wards for persons under investigation, but you would often find that a person admitted in the general ward would later be found to have Covid-19. And they would have been nursed by staff in that ward who did not have full PPE on,” said a source at the hospital who asked to remain anonymous.
On Thursday morning, staff representatives as well as hospital management and officials from the Gauteng health department met to discuss the demonstrations and the PPE shortage issue.
RT @vonchy_19: Healthcare workers at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital staged demonstrations last night and this morning over allegations of inadequate PPE provision for them. This was earlier this morning. Story to follow soon. #healthcareworkers pic.twitter.com/41PcGUY61S— City Press (@City_Press) September 10, 2020
In videos of the demonstrations posted on social media, dozens of staff took to the hospital corridors, chanting and singing struggle songs across the hospital and into the casualty area.
Their demands were as supply of full PPE for staff working in the Covid-19 and people under investigation wards. These should include a mask, goggles, visor, cap, gloves, and jumpsuit and the shoe covers for the individual workers.
In non-Covid-19 wards, which they said still ran the risk of the virus exposure to staff workers, the workers are demanding to be provided with a coverall, surgical mask and a visor.
Kwara Kekana, spokesperson for the provincial MEC of health, confirmed the demonstrations at the surgical department of the hospital.
She said they were still engaging the staff to improve communication and strengthen training on use of PPE according to “risk adjusted guidelines” as per circular 21 of this year from the department of health.
Kekana said: “Even though this guideline does not include the provision of gowns in non-Covid-19 designated areas, the hospital has been providing gowns during the peak period of the pandemic [in June and July] as we were picking up positive cases in non-designated wards.
“The hospital admissions and the number of staff testing positive are on a decline. During the peak months of the pandemic, we had an average of 259 positive staff members per month. During last month, we had 24 employees testing positive to date this month, we have had four employees test positive.”
According to the latest Gauteng command council weekly report released on Thursday, out of 172 113 public servants in the province, 7 690 had tested positive since March – this includes health workers and teachers.
Last month, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize indicated that more than 27 000 healthcare workers across the country had contracted the disease, and while more than 16 000 of them at the time had recovered, 240 had succumbed to Covid-19.
The source added: “And because they’ve stopped issuing full PPE, we said yesterday, ‘No PPE, no work’.
“Last night [Wednesday] nurses refused to work because there was no PPE. And that affected all the wards of Bara … After they [staff] demonstrated, that’s when management said to them they can fetch the full PPE, why?”
Another source said: “At ward 38, the nurses are being refused PPE and are only being given aprons. They aren’t being given the full PPE and their concern is that they are being given aprons, a mask and a cap and will nurse patients.
“Later these very patients turn out to have Covid-19. This is the same for ward 14 too. These are both non-Covid-19 wards. After their picketing, all of a sudden the PPE became available.”
The sources told City Press that during the meeting with management on Thursday, they were told that the PPE scandal engulfing the department had resulted in the shortage of stock.
Following the scandal of over priced PPE, Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku was forced to take a leave of absence pending a probe into his supposed close links to people awarded the contract.
“The provincial people [at the meeting] said that after the suspension of the bogus PPE contracts and companies, they didn’t have the right way to procure the material. They are now telling us stories that the province is running out of PPE. Today they brought some PPE which is so light and the quality is even questionable, we don’t even know where they got them,” said the source.
“We want the public to know government wants us to work without PPE … Our management unfortunately listens to the language of violence and we don’t want to be violent because we are dealing with people’s lives here.
“These are our families … these are our brothers and sisters we are nursing, we don’t want to expose them [to the virus] either. In the surgery department, we have already seen 200 infections so far and two deaths, while in the whole of Bara we’ve had more than 1 000 infections.”
Kekana said: “The institutional PPE committee took a decision to de-escalate and supply PPE as per the provincial guidelines. However, some employees and organised labour are not happy with this decision. The prevalence of Covid-19 infections among staff at the hospital now is at 9%.”