Overworked nurses cause serious errors


Overcrowded hospitals and an overworked nursing staff is the cause of low productivity and an increase in the risk of serious errors in our hospitals.

This is according to Prof Magda Mulder, Head of the School of Nursing at the University of the Free State (UFS).

Prof Mulder responded to a study concerning the impact on the health sector of nursing staff working overtime and doing extra and part-time work.

The study, by Prof Leatitia Rispel from the Wits Centre for Public Health, found that a third of the 3 700 nurses included in the study, is doing extra work. About 60% indicated that they work extra hours at their current employer and more than 40% also work at other hospitals during their off hours (moonlighting). These are the ways in which nursing staff try to keep head above water financially.

Prof Mulder said the findings of the study are only the tip of the iceberg.  She mentioned several factors needing thorough investigation in order to address nursing care in the country.

“The bed occupancy in many private hospitals is often more than 100%. This increases the workload on the nursing staff. Employers often deliberately use contract workers and specifically nursing staff of a lower category, as this is financially more profitable.”

She said nursing agencies that place temporary nursing staff at hospitals, and sometimes even professional nursing staff, often exploit the situation.  

“Nursing agencies, as well as employers, should be legally regulated. Sometimes the legislation is in place, but it is not enforced effectively. Some nurses work more than the maximum hours per week and it is not controlled by the employer. In critical care units this may cause burnout among staff, low productivity and a high risk of serious errors. This may cost patients their lives.”

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