Positive cases place an added burden on staff, who have to work harder and longer to make up for absent colleagues
A TOTAL of 146 employees at the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital in Kimberley have tested positive for Covid-19, which has placed an added burden on the dire shortage of staff at the facility, while the backlog for operations has grown to almost 1 000.
This emerged during an oversight inspection on Tuesday by the DA to three Northern Cape hospitals.
The DA’s national spokesperson for health, Siviwe Gwarube, and the DA provincial health spokesperson, Dr Isak Fritz, together with Delmaine Christians, DA member of the National Council of Provinces, visited the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe (RMS) Hospital and the new mental health hospital in Kimberley, as well as the Prof ZK Matthews Hospital in Barkly West.
In a statement issued by Christains on Wednesday, the party paid tribute to the “many dedicated facility managers, health professionals and hospital staff who, through exceptionally hard work, as opposed to a well-managed health system, are keeping health care services in the Province afloat”.
Christians stated that in all three facilities visited, the biggest underlying challenge to the provision of health care, alongside the pandemic, was the dire shortage of staff.
“At RMS Hospital, the chief executive officer is still awaiting the transfer of human resource delegations back to him. In the meantime, he cannot appoint anyone, not even a cleaner, and he has to wait up to five months for submissions to get signed off at head office. In effect, the facility continues to lose potential health professionals, who eventually seek employment in other provinces,” said Christians.
He added that the Covid-19 positive diagnoses of 146 hospital employees at RMS had placed an added burden on staff, who have to work harder and longer to make up for absent colleagues. “The hospital has increased the overtime limit from 30% to 40%, but even that is not enough. The hospital needs respite.”
Christians pointed out that only emergency surgical procedures could take place, with the backlog for operations now at 985.
“The Covid section of the RMS hospital, which must service the entire Province, only has six ICU beds, of which five were already occupied.”
At the new mental hospital, Christians said that despite the facility having become operationalised a year ago already, overburdened staff also had to fulfil dual roles due to a lack of clinical capacity.
“For example, psychiatrists have to serve as doctors and health and safety officers. This has been further aggravated by the 16 staff members who tested positive for Covid-19. In effect, some state patients are still accommodated in prison and child admissions have yet to commence.
“At the same time, there is the looming threat of security for state patients, given that the private security contract comes to an end next month, leaving the under-capacitated internal security unit to take over this role.”
At Prof ZK Matthews Hospital, the staff shortages were, Christians stated, further aggravated by the shortage of ambulances and fleet vehicles.
“This significantly affects outreach services to the outlying communities, as well as emergency services, given that limited staff and vehicles are more often than not used for referrals to Kimberley, leaving Barkly West residents in the lurch.”
The DA called on Health MEC Maruping Lekwene to relinquish HR delegations to some facilities, and to do more to grow the field of health professionals.
“Our hospital staff, whom we thank from the bottom of our hearts, can only work so much. They cannot carry the burden of a poorly resourced health system indefinitely. Action must be taken before their load gets too heavy.”
During a recent press conference, Lekwene said the Province had made preparations to increase its manpower to fight the virus.
“We have additional nursing staff at the hospitals across the Province. Each district employed 20 additional nurses which culminated in a total of 100 nurses. An additional 60 nurses were added to that number. We have also started recruiting more doctors and we aim to have 30 additional doctors. We have deployed 20 thus far and still need to appoint a further 10. We also have increased staff in other fields in the health care sector, such as emergency medical staff and groundsmen, to increase our teams,” Lekwene said.