WATCH | Covid-19: Inside a NMB hospital where dirt lines hallways, doctors clean wards

  • The situation at some Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals has not eased up, with staff still struggling amid a staff shortage and go-slows.
  • News24 visited Livingstone Hospital, where dirt was strewn on the floor and packed in boxes in hallways.
  • The dept says the staffing issues are being resolved, and the message to workers was "no work, no pay".

The crisis at some Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals has reached new lows as doctors are having to clean wards and wash bed linen, while dirt stands in hallways amid crippling staff shortages.

Nursing staff at Livingstone Hospital have told a shocking tale of overwhelmed staff and overflowing wards that are manned by just two nurses.

At Uitenhage Hospital one nurse told News24 they have had to be creative with space and use offices to treat outpatients. She said community members have taken charge, volunteering to clean the hospital.

When News24 visited Livingstone Hospital on Saturday, dirt and used surgical equipment covered the floors. In one of its pharmacies, the entrance was covered with used sanitisers, surgical gloves and needles. Beds covered in dirty mattresses were also lined up in corridors.

In another ward, dried blood spots covered the floor as staff wheeled patients across the filth. In the elevators, gloves and dirty bed covers were nestled against each corner while the stairway was stained with blood.

Two weeks ago, nurses, cooks, porters and cleaners at the hospital went on a go-slow that lasted for 10 days, the nurse said. 

'Burning out'

The frontline staff are calling for overtime pay.  

"We are burning out. Most of the patients are under investigation [for Covid-19], and we don't know where we stand," a nurse at Livingstone Hospital said. 

The nurse said some of the wards have closed down while awaiting testing for patients, she said.

"We are operating with two nurses per ward. Female ward 1b is not supposed to be functioning because the staff have tested positive. It's been a week now since we have had positive cases but the patients have not been tested. We need to fumigate the entire ward and we need the patients tested to know what we are dealing with. At the moment everything is just slow," she said. 

The Eastern Cape government has projected that 80% of the province could contract Covid-19, according to some projections.

The crisis at Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals has reached new lows as doctors are having to clean wards and wash bed linen, while dirt stands in hallways amid crippling staff shortages.
The crisis at Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals has reached new lows as doctors are having to clean wards and wash bed linen, while dirt stands in hallways amid crippling staff shortages.
The crisis at Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals has rea
The crisis at Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals has reached new lows as doctors are having to clean wards and wash bed linen, while dirt stands in hallways amid crippling staff shortages.

The Herald reported that the provincial Covid-19 command council said that, of these, 15% might require admission to hospital and 5% are likely to need high care. Up to 3% of infected people might die from the virus.

Another nurse said they have been forced to buy their own head caps. She added that nurses had only been supplied with one visor mask which they had been using for over two months. 

"I can't even see through it now. It's so scratched. I can't use this to help my patients." 

No work, no pay

Nurses at Dora Ngiza Hospital went on a go-slow after patient admissions shot up as a result of Covid-19, complaining of being overwhelmed and short-staffed. 

Provincial health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said staff issues have been resolved, and that protocols of dealing with Covid-19 patients were explained to the staff. 

"Management of Dora Nginza met with the unions and explained their position and the nurses were required to go back to work and those who failed to go were told that they would be facing consequences including no work, no pay. 

"Issues relating to appointment of nurses, we advertised positions for both doctors and nurses. We have over 5 000 positions that have been advertised. We are conducting [interviews] for Covid-19 on a 12-month contract. That matter is still underway. A number of hospitals have already employed [staff]."

Kupelo previously blamed the staff shortage at Livingstone Hospital on the demand for overtime pay at the hospital, News24 reported.

He also claimed that when outsourced cleaners were sent in to clean the hospital, they were allegedly threatened by striking staff.

The crisis at Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals has rea
The crisis at Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals has reached new lows as doctors are having to clean wards and wash bed linen, while dirt stands in hallways amid crippling staff shortages.
The crisis at Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals has rea
The crisis at Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals has reached new lows as doctors are having to clean wards and wash bed linen, while dirt stands in hallways amid crippling staff shortages.

He said the department had approved the appointment of 100 general assistants and 59 professional nurses for the Covid-19 period at Livingstone hospital, he said. 

Livingstone Hospital has also been without a permanent CEO or a management committee since November 2018.

'It would make a huge difference'

At the Uitenhage Hospital, a nurse who spoke to News24 said the hospital must make use of agencies to fill staff shortages. 

The hospital currently has 17 beds dedicated to Covid-19 patients. 

"We have a ward which has never been used. It has 20 beds and this would make a huge difference. The ward is right across [from] the Covid-19 ward. At least if we could use that ward for PUI (Patient Under Investigation), and get it staffed, it would make a huge difference."

DA MPL Jane Cowley said the R26 billion provincial health budget has been wasted on medico-liability suits which are in excess of R29bn.

Cowley said the non-filling of funded vacant posts has resulted in problems on the front line, and accruals, into the billions of rands, have built up against the department.

She said this has resulted in under-staffing, a shortage of EMS and a shortage of ambulances which affects the turnaround time of collecting patients. 

"Another common complaint is that whilst the department says they do have PPE, it's not flowing enough. So whilst they might have procured the PPE, the supply chain is not functioning as it should. So hospitals are constantly having to fight to get enough gloves; to get enough gowns on a daily basis in order to function and it shouldn't be like that at all."

Virus spreading

Kupelo previously told City Press that R281 million had been budgeted for PPE, which would be procured and distributed on a continuing basis.

Dean of Health Sciences at the Nelson Mandela University, Professor Lungile Pepeta told News24 last week that the Eastern Cape had ensured a tsunami was on its way.

The province only has 69 ICU beds.

"The situation for the Eastern Cape is about to get worse. We just don't have enough staff and enough people to deal with this. The virus is spreading like fire when we are resource constrained. We now need to consolidate to come up with plans. We need to operationalise whatever we do on a day-to-day basis, and I don't see that plan," Pepeta said, adding that the province would double its case load in 10 days. 

Last week, the metro received a major boost when the German government and Volkswagen handed over the Dr Elizabeth Mamisa Chabula-Nxiweni field hospital capable of filling 3 300 beds. 

The hospital is set to open on 1 July.

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