Staff, PPE shortages at Kariega hospital where patients admitted at night are left unattended - Nehawu

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Kariega Provincial Hospital in the Eastern Cape is beset by staff and equipment shortages.
Kariega Provincial Hospital in the Eastern Cape is beset by staff and equipment shortages.
  • Vacancies at Kariega Provincial Hospital in the Eastern Cape were last filled in 2017.
  • The hospital is so understaffed that health workers are unable to take leave until sick colleagues recover and return to work.
  • A lone porter traverses up and down the hospital's six floors to wheel patients and bodies around.

Patients who are admitted to Kariega Provincial Hospital in the Eastern Cape at night are only attended to the following day because there are no clerks to register them or provide doctors with patient records.

Nurses wear rubbish bags because there are no aprons, and one porter wheels patients, dead or alive, up and down the six floors of the hospital.

Nurse wearing yellow rubbish bag due to apron shor
Nurses wear rubbish bags at an Eastern Cape hospital due to lack of aprons.

This is according to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), which has blown the whistle on a critical shortage of staff and personal protective equipment (PPE). It wants heads to roll.

READ | Hospital hell: Deputy public protector finds Eastern Cape facilities in shocking state

The union claims vacancies at the hospital have not been filled since 2017 and that it's only getting worse because staff members who resign, retire, or die are not replaced.

The hospital is so understaffed, they say, that health workers are unable to take leave until sick colleagues recover and return to work, the union claims.

"As per the organogram, there must be clerks working shifts. That is not happening at the hospital. Our members are facing many challenges whereby they are overworked and anxiety is too much," deputy provincial secretary Sweetness Tokwe alleges.

Tokwe says:

The situation is really bad, and we call on the department to act on the management of this hospital because hospitals were given authority to appoint. Yet, so far, it is only Dora Nginza Hospital that we have seen implementing that and hired 88 nurses.

She adds that it is clear there is a sufficient supply of PPEs at the hospital, but that it's kept in storage.

"We say this because whenever our office complain to management about lack of PPEs, we see hospitals immediately giving out PPEs, meaning that there are [PPEs] there. It's just that people are lazy to do their jobs."

The Eastern Cape health department has confirmed that there is a critical shortage of aprons and has promised to address the problem.

But department spokesperson, Sizwe Kupelo, has denied allegations of a vacancy backlog, saying that the posts are being filled.

"The Uitenhage (Kariega) Provincial Hospital pharmacy has confirmed that they have all the essential PPE. The only item that is in short supply is the apron which the team will be sending there in the next day," Kupelo said.

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According to Kupelo, the use of PPE is guided by universal infection prevention control protocols.

He adds: 

The department has adequate stock to protect staff that are looking after Covid-19 patients and to protect the general staff from contracting Covid-19 in their space of work.

"Staff are encouraged to report any shortage of PPE to their facility management. The management will then activate the provincial team to send stock if it is unavailable through the normal supply channels."

Eastern Cape Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth says she will probe reports that there are no clerks working night shifts.

"I am hearing the reports for the first time, so I will call the management of the hospital and find out about clerks not working night shift, but the issues of staff shortages at hospitals in the Nelson Mandela Bay are really our priority and we will move swiftly to address the problems."

ALSO READ | More than 90 vaccinated Eastern Cape health workers have tested positive for Covid-19 since February

The department previously said that when staff are sick and unable to work, it cripples hospitals' ability to offer quality service.

The department’s epidemiology report, last released on 14 July, shows that 150 health workers in the province were admitted in hospitals for Covid-19 this year.

The report also shows that 12 187 health workers have tested positive for Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, and that 315 have died.

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