The death of a nurse at Addington Hospital on the Durban beach front has led to further scrutiny of the provincial health department for allegedly suppressing Covid-19 coronavirus cases among medical personnel across the province.
While the circumstances around the woman’s death are unknown, City Press has learnt that she was among a group of health workers based in the hospital’s theatre who were tested for Covid-19.
The nurse is believed to have tested negative, but seven of her colleagues did test positive.
This number was confirmed by three independent sources, including a member of personnel in the legislature, who said the number was formally disclosed to the health portfolio committee on Tuesday.
According to SA Police Service KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala, an inquest docket had been opened into the woman’s death.
“A 33-year-old woman was found dead inside the ladies’ room in the hospital premises in South Beach. Police are investigating [the] circumstances around the incident.”
Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA provincial secretary Mandla Shabangu told City Press that the nurse was a member of the union.
“Her family have been notified; they came to the hospital on Thursday. We cannot say what the cause of death was as this is still being investigated.”
He confirmed that the woman was among a cohort of nurses and doctors who worked in theatre and were required to be tested for Covid-19 after one member initially tested positive.
“This is related to a matter where a member of the theatre team had contact with a nurse from Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital as they were relatives.
“Once this became known, we agreed with the department that the other theatre personnel, including doctors, be tested. As far as I am aware, the deceased nurse had tested negative, otherwise she would not have been at the facility,” said Shabangu.
St Augustine’s is Durban’s largest private hospital. On April 2, it stopped accepting new patients when 66 people – including 48 staff members – tested positive for Covid-19. It is still unclear as to when the hospital is set to reopen.
As of last Sunday, there were 121 confirmed Covid-19 cases among healthcare workers in KwaZulu-Natal, with the bulk coming from two Netcare hospitals – St Augustine’s, which recorded 71, and Kingsway with “more than 20”, Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said during a press conference.
DA health spokesperson in KwaZulu-Natal Dr Rishigen Viranna said he was aware of the nurse’s death, but would await details as to the cause of death before commenting.
Viranna said the provincial legislature would hold an urgent health portfolio committee this week to get clarity on the woman’s death and positive Covid-19 cases at Addington, as well as the outstanding investigations into St Augustine’s and Kingsway.
“We are not getting the figures of cases per district, per municipality and per hospital. A decision has been taken by the provincial command council, led by Premier Sihle Zikalala, to embargo these details. We feel it is wrong that they do this.
“If the public is aware of the situation in their area, they change their behaviour, but without data, most people see themselves as low risk and therefore do not follow the regulations,” Viranna told City Press.
He said a request had been made to Zikalala to make this information public, failing which the party will proceed with the Promotion of Access to Information Act application that was submitted by its provincial leader, Zwakele Mncwango, to the command council on Wednesday last week.