Health centres unsafe

The laundry room at Fort Napier is in a poor state, with dirty laundry going unwashed for several days.
The laundry room at Fort Napier is in a poor state, with dirty laundry going unwashed for several days.

Poor security arrangements that expose female health workers to the risk of sexual attacks, a flagrant disregard for Covid-19 safety protocols and a failure to adhere to minimum health standards.

These are among some of the shocking findings made by MPLs who were conducting oversight visits at Pietermaritzburg’s public health facilities.

At the Fort Napier specialised hospital, which also caters for prisoners with mental illness, MPLs were confronted with terrified workers who told them about the horrendous conditions they had to work under.

Courts in the province often refer awaiting-trial prisoners to Fort Napier for mental assessment to establish whether they are fit to stand trial.

But despite the category of patients that staff at the hospital have to deal with, health workers told MPLs there was no proper security there.

“If a gang wanted to come and rescue their members, they could simply walk through the front gate. We would not be able to stop them,” one of the hospital workers told the MPLs.

DA MPL Chris Pappas, who was part of the provincial legislature’s team that visited the Fort Napier Hospital this week, said it was unacceptable that the provincial Health Department was exposing its workers to so much danger.

“Considering that the facility houses convicted criminals as well as people awaiting trial, this should be a huge concern. The safety of female staff is especially concerning, with examples being provided where female staff are confronted by unstable patients with little or no back-up,” he said.

Despite the country being in the midst of a Covid-19 crisis, there were no facilities to deal with Covid-19 patients in Fort Napier.

Pappas, who described the lack of Covid-19 facilities at the institution as shocking, said it was worrying that convicted criminals with Covid-19 may end up being referred to nearby hospitals not geared to deal with people who were in conflict with the law. “This could mean that a convicted criminal or mentally unstable patient would be mixed with general patients at a facility such as Grey’s or the Field Hospital. These facilities do not have the capability to handle such special cases,” he said.

Washing machines at the hospital laundry room had broken down, with filthy garments strewn all over the place.

At Edendale Hospital, the team found demoralised staff who were scared to come to work because of a lack of Covid-19 safety measures.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers (Nehawu) Harry Gwala regional secretary Mazwi Ngubane, who was part of the legislature’s team, said a few days ago police had to intervene after workers at Edendale Hospital had abandoned their work stations in protest against the unsafe conditions.

“It is worrying that instead of attending to the workers’ grievances, management brought in police. You cannot use force to resolve labour-related matters,” he said.

KwaZulu-Natal Legislature Speaker Nontembeko Boyce said the provincial parliament was in the process of compiling a report on its observations during the oversight visit to public health facilities across the province.

“The legislature will share the report with the department so that all challenges can be attended to.

“We will continue playing our oversight role by ensuring that all the shortcomings are addressed,” she said.


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