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City nurses receive final warnings for refusing to work in Covid wards

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Nurses at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital in Kimberley have been issued final warnings for refusing to work in Covid-19 wards.

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital. Picture: Soraya Crowie

NURSES who refuse to assist in the Covid-19 wards at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital in Kimberley are being charged for misconduct and issued with final written warnings.

The nurses said on Thursday that they are unwilling to abandon and neglect their own patients.

“Patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) require 24-hour care, which we cannot provide if we are expected to divide our attention between the different wards. There is also a high risk of cross-infection,” the nurses explained.

“We are being harassed because there are not enough nursing staff.

“Even nurses with comorbidities and those who contracted tuberculosis at the workplace are being forced to help out in the Covid-19 wards.”

They said that the ICU unit was operating at a 30 percent nursing staff capacity, while there was only one dedicated professional nurse stationed at the Covid-19 unit.

They added that nurses who resigned or retired were not replaced and that the remaining staff were expected to “fill in the gaps”.

“While it is our duty to save lives, being pressured into working in Covid-19 areas feels as if we are being given a death sentence. Nurses have still contracted Covid-19 after being vaccinated and had to be admitted into the intensive care unit. Vaccinations offer no guarantees against infection.”

The nurses also said that they were not trained to treat Covid-19 patients.

“We were appointed to work in other areas of the hospital. While we are provided with masks and gloves, the only additional item of personal protective equipment that we are allocated in the Covid-19 wards are aprons.

“Nurses who have contracted Covid-19 while working with patients at the hospital are not provided with any form of support. We are exhausted, burnt out, overworked and are not compensated for overtime or working weekends and public holidays.

“Nurses are also exposing their families to the disease. Our working conditions are becoming unbearable and it is making us miserable.”

Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) provincial secretary Anthony Vassen pointed out that nurses had a right to refuse to work in Covid-19 wards.

“It is advisable not to mix nurses between Covid-19 and ordinary wards, especially in the same shift, as this will defeat the purpose of infection prevention and control. It will also expose patients to the risk of infection,” said Vassen.

“The hospital was supposed to have completed a risk assessment to determine which nurses with comorbidities should not be exposed to working in high-risk areas.”

Vassen said that the union was challenging five final written warnings that were issued to the nurses who were unwilling to work in the Covid-19 wards.

“For some time, the Department of Health has been aware of the shortage of nurses. There is a backlog in the appointment of specialised care and neonatal nurses for the past 10 years. They should have put contingency measures in place before the third wave hit the Province. Nurses are overworked.”

He added that it was the accepted norm to have a ratio of one nurse attending to one patient, both in the ICU and Covid-19 ICU as well as high care units. “At Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital the ratio is currently being stretched.

“The Department of Health must explain where the Covid-19 funds that it was allocated were spent if there are no funds to appoint nurses and fill vacant funded posts.”

The Northern Cape Department of Health did not respond to media enquiries.