WATCH | This Eastern Cape hospital is running out of sanitiser at its doors, say staff

  • Staff at two hospitals in the Eastern Cape say they have not been prepared with enough sanitiser and PPE.
  • At Queenstown, they have resorted to buying their own sanitiser, while, at Tower, they have to use one mask the entire week.
  • Union Denosa said there are three layers of PPE, and more needs to be done to provide staff with all three.

A lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitiser and physical distancing have been identified as some of the reasons for a rise in staff infections at Frontier Hospital in Queenstown, staff say.

A senior maternity ward nurse at Frontier Hospital told News24 the hospital had recorded more than 70 staff cases of Covid-19.

When News24 visited the hospital this week, it was only at the front gates where security was visible distributing hand sanitiser.

However, upon entry, none of the security posted at each entrance to the hospital's wards had sanitiser or a thermoscan. Exiting and entering one of the ward buildings also saw no sanitiser being dispensed.

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The nurse, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed they had very little preparation for Covid-19.

The nurse said they had adequate staff in her ward, but she had been using one mask for a week, and they were supplied with the wrong gloves.

"As you can see, you can wander from one place to the next with no questions from security; never mind that we don't have sanitisers. We have to buy our own sanitisers and ration it because there is no supply. This is a beautiful hospital and the nurses are dedicated, but the number of infections are growing," she said.

She also said there was little adherence to physical distancing among visitors.

'One mask for one week'

At Tower Psychiatric Hospital in Fort Beaufort, a social worker at the hospital claimed the health department was neglecting them after four patients died of Covid-19.

She said staff at the hospital felt like the "stepchild" of the department.

"We have been told that we are not priority, so the first people to get PPEs are the mainstream hospitals. We have four doctors, but two are in isolation and one was tested recently," she said, adding that she feared the hospital was running out of staff.

READ | Eastern Cape needs 3 000 ICU beds for incomming Covid-19 storm

"That is why I'm saying we need to control the things we can. You can't give a nurse one mask for the whole week. It was only two weeks ago when we got a mask for a day, but we are still struggling to get a sanitiser. A 50ml sanitiser, we were told it must last two months," she said.

News24 previously reported that Tower Hospital only had one working thermometer gun, after one went missing, which was confirmed by the department of health.

Hospital management at Frontier Hospital referred comment to the provincial department of health.

After repeated attempts, provincial health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo did not respond to request for comment.

Kupelo has previously said that R281m had been budgeted for PPE, which would be procured and distributed on a continuing basis.

Three categories of PPE

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) provincial secretary Khaya Sodidi said they were in communication with the department for frontline workers to get adequate supplies of PPE.

"It could indeed be that there are no PPEs or that they are not well-equipped in terms of dealing with the situation. When dealing with Covid-19 cases, the nurses are expected to wear a different gear. There are three categories of PPE.

"What we have seen is that management expect people to wear just an apron and just surgical gloves, and they are expected to enter that [isolation] room. It could happen that they are only provided with that. The reality is that some of the nurses are being forced to attend to patients without proper clothing," he said.

READ | Covid-19: Another hard lockdown is possible, warns Mkhize

The union said 800 of their members had been infected, but the numbers are expected to grow exponentially in the next few weeks.

Dean of the Department of Health Sciences at the Nelson Mandela University, Professor Lungile Pepeta, recently told News24 that for frontline workers, primarily nurses, because of shortages in PPE, infections, skills and self-isolation were creating an even bigger problem in the province.

"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," he said.

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane this week admitted that hospitals in the province were "overwhelmed", and has requested national government to deploy the South African National Defence Force's medical team to assist.

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