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Health SOS sent to Saul

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Union calls on Premier to intervene in what they call the 'crumbling health care system'.

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THE DEMOCRATIC Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) has made an urgent call on the Northern Cape premier to intervene in what it has called the “crumbling health care system” in the Namaqua District and at the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital in Kimberley.

“Denosa would like to appeal to the Premier of the Northern Cape, Dr Zamani Saul, to intervene on the perilous and crumbling quality of health care services provided to the vulnerable people of Namaqua District and Kimberley Hospital, caused by gross shortages of staff and resources, which are also exposing health workers to unending risks of litigations,” Denosa Northern Cape provincial secretary Anthony Vassen said.

He pointed out that the Northern Cape Department of Health, through the offices of the HOD and the MEC, had “opted to close their ears and offices and were avoiding answering numerous phone calls” from Denosa’s provincial leaders regarding the matter.

“The HOD has also threatened union officials and shop stewards with legal and disciplinary action in an attempt to shut them down from raising these critical issues. The state of health care in the Namaqua District is a sorry and regrettable one.

“Denosa wrote a letter to the department six weeks ago, raising these urgent issues, and demanded that they be addressed by the end of August. August came and passed with not a single solution to the challenges we raised. As a result, health workers from health facilities in the Namaqua District have been picketing outside the district offices since Monday, demanding the hiring of health workers and procurement of the necessary equipment for the facilities.”

Vassen added that Springbok Hospital, which is 800 kilometres from Kimberley and 400 kilometres from Upington, operated with only one theatre nurse.

“In the labour ward at this hospital, there are only two professional nurses with no assistant nurses. There is only one professional nurse at the casualty unit. This low staff complement is a serious danger to the lives of patients in the area. For example, in May this year a patient transporter was involved in an accident in Springbok and 18 patients sustained injury and had to be taken to Springbok Hospital where there is only one nurse in the casualty unit. Four patients had to be airlifted to Kimberley Hospital, 800 kilometres away (and where there’s a shortage of more than 50 nurses).

“The shortage of resources is demoralising to nurses who have to pay out of their own pockets, and with no compensation, for basic instruments like thermometers and toiletries. They also have to phone for patient referrals from their own phones and airtime.

“The theatre light at the hospital, which is very crucial during the performance of an operation on patients, has not been working for a long time and normal small bulbs have replaced this, which is compromising the quality of service to patients.”

Vassen stated further that clinics in and around Springbok were in a similar state of paralysis as Springbok Hospital.

“Steinkopf Clinic was burnt down in November last year and nurses and operations had to be moved to a rented house, which is old and grossly inadequate and an inconvenience to both nurses and patients. Patients could easily contract TB due to the condition of the house and the department cannot do any renovations because the house is a rented one.

“Medication at the clinic is placed on the floor, and the supposed fridge, where medication for immunisation is stored, has melted and cannot function properly and babies have to be delivered in the bathroom. At the clinic, patient privacy is also compromised because only a screen separates the waiting area and the consulting area, thus enabling everyone to listen when a patient is being consulted by the nurse.”

Vassen added that in Kamiesberg, which is a sub-district of Namaqua, there has been no water supply from the local municipality since the beginning of the year.

“In Kamieskroon, the only water supply to the clinic is from asbestos tanks. Again, this exposes both patients and nurses to the risk of lung infection and there is no certainty that they have not contracted the disease already. In Nama Khoi at Nababeep CHC the same situation exists where water is supplied to the facility from asbestos water tanks.”

Vassen said that Denosa had raised all these issues with the department over a month ago already but with no positive response.

“On Monday, we were met by an arrogant district manager, who became defensive instead of talking about any solutions. This has done nothing but to harden the attitude of workers, who are the ones exposed to the dangers of a shortage of staff and resources in the workplace.

“Denosa is utterly disappointed in both the MEC and HOD in the Province. We met with the MEC in June, where a commitment was made by the department to hire more nurses. The meeting even allowed for Denosa to assist in collating details and a list of nurses who are unemployed, where we managed to collect the details of more than 600 nurses who are looking for employment in the Northern Cape. Now that we are asking about a follow-up meeting with the MEC to finalise this process, she does not take our phone calls.

“A similar action was taken by workers at Kimberley Hospital this week, where there is a shortage of staff as nurses who have retired and resigned have not been replaced.”

Vassen concluded by saying that Denosa was pleading with the premier to intervene, for the sake of the people of Northern Cape.

“If there is no intervention, the situation will just deteriorate further and more patients’ lives will be unnecessarily lost.”