Hospital horror stories

Nurses push a bed past the entrance to the maternity ward at Northdale Hospital.
Nurses push a bed past the entrance to the maternity ward at Northdale Hospital.
Ian Carbutt

While scores of unemployed professional nurses beg for work at overburdened hospitals, patients from both the state and public sector have complained bitterly about the current level of nursing care in the province.

Patients have said that the level of care many nurses provide has deteriorated dramatically over the years, with some even relaying their horror stories of past experiences.

Private hospitals came under heavy fire as having “rude” and “uncaring” nurses, more so than state hospitals in the area, according to a snap scan of locals who commented on The Witness’ Facebook page about the level of nursing care. Pietermaritzburg’s Megan Nicol said while most nurses are “pleasant enough in the private hospitals”, they are “no way near sufficiently trained”.

She added that there were not enough nurses at hospitals either.

“It seems to me that the hospitals are so busy trying to make money that they cut back on important things such as nursing staff,” she said.

Nicol said she had a procedure done at a private hospital that she would not name. “After the surgical procedure I started to bleed. I was left bleeding while they called the doctor at midnight and did nothing to assist.

“They clearly didn’t know what to do. The next morning the blood had still not been cleaned up in the bathroom and I was sharing with another patient. “I ended up trying to clean it myself in embarrassment and in pain,” she said.

Another local Sethabile Hlanti posted on The Witness’ Facebook page that just last week, she had “the most unbelievable experience at Edendale Hospital”.

“I was there with my sick baby and we’d been admitted. The next day a mother came in with her sick baby, and an hour after she joined us in the ward she started complaining of severe stomach pain.”

Hlanti said she knew the woman because they had both given birth on the same day at the same hospital so she wanted to help her. “I asked the day shift nurses if anything could be done for her as she was literally lying on the floor, wracked by pain.

“The nurses told her to get up from the floor and go downstairs to see a doctor and told her “don’t be so dramatic”.

Hlanti said the woman then started vomiting and continued to cry but none of the nurses came to her aid.

“Eventually she asked if I could go with her downstairs, I agreed but as she stood up she collapsed.

“The nurses just looked at me trying to catch this woman and only came over to ‘assist’ when one of the doctors who was doing rounds came to help me.

“I was told to leave my sick child in the ward and take an unconscious woman to the emergency department because the nurses told me ‘we are busy here, there’s no one to take her’.”

She said her son was not fed in time and did not get his medication because the nurses who were too busy to help the sick woman were “apparently also too busy to attend to my child”.

“... I experienced no compassion from the nursing staff. Their level of dedication seems to pertain to what they deem is their “day job” and no further.

“It’s a pity because so many people depend on state hospitals and have to sleep on the floor just to make sure their kids are looked after,” said Hlanti.

Meanwhile, there were many complaints about St Anne’s Hospital nurses being rude and unhelpful.

Thanda Dlamini posted on The Witness’ Facebook page that she was admitted to St Anne’s Hospital and had been bleeding for almost two days.

“The night sister gave me a paper towel to hold. I nearly died. I think by the end of second or third day I ended up at high care and only there I was helped.

“I discharged myself once I got out of high care. That hospital was hell. Nearly had bed sores if it weren’t for the people that came to visit me who were professional nurses.”

Dlamini said the St Anne’s nurses did not rub her back to prevent bedsores but family and friends had to do that for her.

She added that the nurses were also reluctant to help bath her.

Meanwhile, there were two complaints about Midlands Medical Centre.

Lindy Mkhize posted on The Witness’ Facebook page that she went to Midlands Medical Centre and experienced service that was “bad and unprofessional”.

In total, St Anne’s Hospital had 11 complaints against them while Midlands Medical Centre had three complaints.

Northdale Hospital had six complaints with Grey’s Hospital receiving three and Edendale Hospital receiving one complaint.

There were, however, many people who shared positive experiences with nurses at all the hospitals mentioned above.

Sharon Mahabeer posted on The Witness’ Facebook page that she felt sad reading all the comments about nursing on the page. “I trained at Grey’s, and have worked at Mediclinic, Netcare and Midlands Medical Centre. I know that there are good nurses out there, but I also know that nursing now is just an income earner for the majority of the newly trained nurses.”

On January 23, The Witness published an article on jobless nurses in the province. A nurse who asked not to be named as she feared victimisation from the department said that nurses were overworked and depressed, especially in state hospitals where a nurse in training will sometimes have to look after a ward with 36 beds all by herself without any help or guidance.

She said that nursing was a passion for many but that morale was low because of the shortage of staff and resources. She said it was no wonder the department had so many medical litigation cases against it because there were so few nurses. “The MEC complains that nurses have a bad attitude but has he seen how hard we all work with little staff and resources?

“He does not care about the nurses,” she said.

The SA Nursing Council registrar and CEO Sizo Mchunu said she would respond to questions sent to her by Weekend Witness by Monday. 

Retired nurses want to help with training

KZN Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said the department would be looking at getting retired nurses to come and help with training.

“They say they want to share certain values with the department,” said Dhlomo. “The retired nurses are willing to bring their wealth of knowledge at their own leisure and we hope that they will be able to give lectures so that they can share their policies on patient care. Nurses are the backbone of the health system and also the heart beat. You rely on nurses as they stay with patients longer than any other health professional so reviewing those principles of that nursing ethos are critically important.”

He added that he was calling on all healthcare professionals to try their best in maintaining “a good attitude”.

“Just remind yourself of what you do and what you are supposed to do according to your nurses pledge of service. If people do that continually you will find it will always be on their minds,” said Dhlomo.

St Anne’s disappointed

St Anne’s Hospital general manager Louis Joubert said they were “disappointed” that some of the people who commented on the The Witness’ Facebook post did not experience “the quality nursing care that we are genuinely committed to providing to each individual patient”.

However, he added that it was “heartening that other individuals had very positive experiences”.

“We at Netcare St Anne’s ... see ourselves as an integral part of the community of Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas ...

“I would like to invite the individuals who have posted negative comments on the Facebook page to contact me directly on or call me on 033 897 5006 so that I can hear from them first hand why our service did not meet their expectations, and how they think we can enhance our service,” said Joubert.

Feedback is highly valued

Midlands Medical Centre hospital manager Dr Douglas Ross said their hospital “aspires to the highest level of quality care across all nursing and non-nursing departments”.

“Issues of quality and care are increasingly coming to the fore in healthcare in South Africa and we value patient feedback and engagement,” said Ross.

“... Midlands Medical Centre has an established quality department to focus solely on these matters. Patient feedback is analysed on an ongoing basis by our team of experts, with a view toward continuous improvement through staff training and development programmes.

“Concerns are rapidly acknowledged, followed by comprehensive investigations with thorough responses provided to patients thereafter,” he said.

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