A special event to commemorate International Nurses Day on Tuesday at Tygerberg Hospital was interrupted by protesting staff, who charge that they do not have adequate protective gear and are being financially crippled by the expense of travelling to work during the lockdown.
The hospital's labour caucus – comprising, among others, the Public and Allied Workers Union, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union – led the protest, which saw caucus member Abdul Hadee Vent plead with Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo for intervention between staff and management.
According to Vent, staff are complaining about insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and a lack of communication regarding colleagues who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Cleaning processes of contaminated areas are also not applied in terms of departmental guidelines, Vent alleged.
Nurses were also suffering under the financial strain of travelling to work from areas as far as Sir Lowry's Pass Village, Stellenbosch and Paarl while trains remain out of operation, he said.
One of his colleagues previously spent R45 to get to and from work, but now forks out between R250 and R300 per day on e-hailing trips.
"We didn't decree the issue of trains that were not going to be there. We did not call for Covid-19," Vent told Mbombo.
"Minister, we will take this opportunity during our lunch hour to do this demonstration until our voices are heard, because we need to come back to this [hospital and situation]."
Mbombo told the demonstrators that it had become the "worst year for the nurses because of Covid".
"We have to respect your needs. We can't dismiss your truth, because it is your pain," she said, acknowledging that they were "at the coalface".
"I must listen and see what we can do as the employer to meet each other halfway."
Tygerberg Hospital nurse Ntombizakithi Ngidi last week became the second nurse to die of Covid-19 in the province. Petronella Benjamin, also a nurse, succumbed a day before she was supposed to retire.
The provincial health department, after the protest, said in a statement it "recognises that its employees may experience fear and anxiety following the recent death of a nurse due to the coronavirus".
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"During this period, the hospital management would like to unequivocally assure employees that it is committed to ensuring maximum protection for all against the spread of the coronavirus," it said.
"In ensuring a healthy workforce, the department is engaging laboratories to prioritise the testing of healthcare workers and persons under investigation.
"In addition, the department has also doubled its available PPE stock, which are allocated to staff based on the risk profile. The department also encourages information sharing with staff, while continuing to adhere to patient confidentiality in the event a staff member does test positive."
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According to the department, it had also made available an updated individual and institutional health risk assessment, which managers need to complete for staff to identify those staff members at risk and to implement safety measures in their work environment.
"The department is also aware of the fact that many staff members are reliant on public transport to and from work, which also poses a risk to our staff.
"We have launched various initiatives, through the support of the Department of Transport and Public Works, which includes adding additional buses, especially to Tygerberg Hospital, while the Department of Health has also allocated additional vehicles to assist in transporting staff."
South Africa's positive coronavirus cases totalled 11 350 on Tuesday, with the Western Cape recording 484 of the 698 new cases, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.