Inside 17 public hospitals: Health workers forced to wear torn PPE, blitz inspections reveal

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A general view of nurses in a hospital ward.
A general view of nurses in a hospital ward.
Sharon Seretlo
  • Deputy public protector, advocate Kholeka Gcaleka, outlined a dire shortage of PPE and staff at 17 public hospitals in South Africa.
  • A report compiled by the Public Protector's office describes severe difficulties facing the health sector.
  • In some cases, healthcare workers had to wear torn PPE because of shortages.

Frontline workers who are fighting Covid-19 in severely affected provinces in the public health sector are some of the most exposed to the disease with personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages leaving some nurses to wear torn equipment, deputy public protector, advocate Kholeka Gcaleka, said on Monday.

"Hospitals did not have sufficient PPE. At some hospitals, staff are required to use one PPE the entire day. Only doctors were provided with full PPE and not all staff members," were among the findings made.

She said the report came after her office embarked on blitz inspections at various public healthcare facilities across the country.

The inspection included hospitals in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and Limpopo, covering 17 public hospitals.

Some of the main issues emerging were PPE related and the state of the facilities, among others.

She said PPE issues included the fact that some wards in these hospitals were not provided with proper PPE.

"PPE masks are re-used. Incorrect PPE masks are procured and [there are] incorrect sizes of PPE. There is inadequate protection for healthcare workers and other staff members due to a lack of PPE. Nurses are only allowed one body suit per day."

Gcaleka said some of the PPE were also incorrect sizes "that tear immediately".

"Nurses are forced to wear bodysuits even if it is torn, thereby risking their health. The procured PPE are not as per the specifications and are substandard. PPE stock levels at the warehouse where PPE are collected, are very low."

She said there was also non-delivery of the procured PPE by the appointed service provider who was on the provincial database.

"At some point there were substandard PPE that were delivered to the hospitals as the gowns were unsterile and they did not fit the staff compliment."

She said that was also a shortage of thermometers, disposable bins, decanters and oxygen points.

Gcaleka said there was also a "chronic nursing staff shortage and lack of professional nurses to staff the areas optimally".

"Workload for the doctors was too high. Doctors are often expected to work excessive hours as a result of clinical staff shortages."

She said detailed reports of what each hospital had to do to improve would be uploaded to their website.

"There is a host of interventions that we propose in respect of each of the facilities to deal with the various issues identified. They are for both the short and the medium terms. I will not go into the details of each, suffice to say they seek to remedy the challenges that we have picked up."

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