Nurses in the public health sector, faced with situations beyond their control every day, are in need of counselling and debriefing sessions that are no longer provided for them.
Communications manager Sibongiseni Delihlazo from Denosa (Democratic Nurses Association of South Africa) stated that nurses who don’t receive support are at risk of becoming either hardened to the plight of those in their care, or else over-involved in the challenges of their patients.
Severe shortage of nurses
“They get extremely hurt when one of their patients die in a facility where they work,” said Delihlazo.
He said it was unfortunate that the counselling services that were once provided were now no longer available to nurses.
“Previously there used to be counsellors for nurses and doctors in the facilities. They would debrief staff when they encountered a bad experience, like the loss of patient. Today the need for that kind of thing is even more, especially now that we are experiencing a severe shortage of nurses,” Delihlazo said.
Nurses who don’t receive care and support could become hardened.
“Nurses are sometimes seen as heartless people who don’t always care.”
Helping the vulnerable
Denosa offers a programme titled "Health Workers for Change", through which nurses are encouraged to identify difficult issues within the different healthcare facilities, and not to take their anger out on patients.
“This has assisted them in the way they deal with systematic challenges and they realise they are at work to help the vulnerable,” said Delihlazo.
Nurses in the Northern Cape have occasionally been assisting patients with transport money after being faced with sick people who have no way of getting home after receiving treatment.
Mapule Busang, a 29-year-old woman from a farm near Manyeding, recently arrived at Kuruman Hospital, having been brought in by ambulance with an 18-month-old baby with vomiting and diarrhoea.
As she arrived at the hospital she was directed to the reception area to open a file, but got lost in the massive building. There were no porters to help her, and eventually she arrived at the Kuruman Clinic, situated in the hospital yard.
Tearfully she placed her sick baby on the observation table, and wept as she told the duty nurse: “Sister, I don’t have taxi fare to go back home.”
The nurse, who asked not to be identified, said this was not the first time she had ended up in this kind of situation.
“We are used to dealing with cases of this kind. We sometimes go as far as buying patients toiletries when the hospital supplies don’t arrive on time,” she said, explaining some of the dilemmas nurses regularly faced and how they regularly spent their own money to help those in their care.
Delihlazo said this kind of selfless service was an active expression of the nursing service pledge.
He said, however, that it could also create a dependency syndrome because nurses had entered the profession because of their passion.
“They develop a bond with every patient that they care for, to such an extent that it is difficult for them to not act when they see patients in desperate need of assistance.”
Representation for health workers
The unidentified nurse who spoke to Health-e News said: “I always put myself in the patient's shoes, and that is why I cannot leave them without helping them. I sometimes share my lunch box with them if there is a need.”
According to the chairperson of Civil Society in the Northern Cape, Beau Nkaelang, the public should be made aware of what healthcare workers in the public system go through.
“We would like to see all the district civil society forums having a sector that represents healthcare workers, something that at the moment is only seen at a provincial level,” he said.
Recognition of the plight of the healthcare providers would help patients understand the challenges faced by those who care for them. It would also help the public have a better understanding about nurses and what they go through, and the fact that they themselves need support.