‘We are exhausted, dying,’ cry KZN’s healthcare workers

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“We are dying, we are exhausted and urgently need psychological help.”

This is the plea from KwaZulu-Natal doctors struggling to cope with the number of Covid-19 patients flooding into the province’s hospitals.

According to the South African Medical Association (Sama), coronavirus infections among doctors, lack of equipment — including ventilators, a shortage of specialist doctors and a shortage of beds, are driving its members to the edge.

Dr Zanele Bikitsha, the Sama provincial chairperson, said infections among doctors were out of control.

“As I’m speaking to you, I’m on my way to the family of a colleague who just passed away due to Covid-19,” she added.

“As I was preparing to visit the family, I received a message that another doctor has just passed on — it’s a crisis.”

“The biggest challenge we are facing is that the department is currently not replacing those nurses who can’t report to work due to Covid-19.”
Sama chairperson Zanele Bhikisha

KZN, which is currently recording an average of 5 000 new cases a day, has over 64 000 active cases.

According to the provincial Health Department, 1 694 healthcare workers are currently in isolation while 724 are in quarantine.

Apart from the risk of being infected, doctors are now having to deal with psychological problems.

“It’s difficult to see so many people dying in front of you,” Bikitsha said.

“Patients needing high care are not getting any assistance due to the shortage of specialist doctors.

“In most of the health facilities patients who are in a serious condition are being turned away due to a shortage of beds. As doctors we are currently going through a lot — we need psychological support,” added Bhikisha.

READ | Medical staff cut holidays short over second wave

Nurses, who like doctors are at great risk of being infected, describe the workload at the province’s health facilities as “overwhelming”.

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) provincial chairperson Sibonelo Cele said a substantial number of nurses in the province were not reporting for work due to ill health.

“The biggest challenge we are facing is that the department is currently not replacing those nurses who can’t report to work due to Covid-19.

“As a result you end up with a situation where a single nurse has to do the work of three nurses — it’s unbearable, particularly under the current Covid-19 situation,” he added.

“As Denosa we are currently investigating reports that some hospitals have been forcing nurses who have tested positive to continue working.”
Denosa provincial chairperson Sibonelo Cele

While the department has previously encouraged nurses to regularly undergo Covid-19 tests, Cele said Denosa was concerned that very few tests are actually being conducted.

“What we suspect is happening is that the Health Department doesn’t want nurses to test to avoid a situation where there would be a massive shortage of healthcare workers in healthcare facilities as a result of nurses taking sick leave,” Cele added..

“As Denosa we are currently investigating reports that some hospitals have been forcing nurses who have tested positive to continue working.”

The department did not respond to e-mailed questions on the matter.

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