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MEC to address staff shortage

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Staff members at both facilities decided to down tools, claiming that they are working under dire conditions due to a shortage of staff

CRISIS: In an attempt to address challenges such as a shortage of staff at medical facilities in Upington and Hopetown, the Northern Cape MEC for Health, Fufe Makatong, yesterday met with labour unions to discuss issues relating to a memorandum handed over to her. The meeting follows after health services at Upingtons Dr Harry Surtie Hospital and the Hopetown Community Health Centre came to a standstill last week. Makatong (centre, in purple) is seen here with staff members at the Dr Harry Surtie Hospital. Picture: Supplied

IN AN ATTEMPT to address challenges such as a shortage of staff at medical facilities in Upington and Hopetown, the Northern Cape MEC for Health, Fufe Makatong, yesterday met with labour unions to discuss issues relating to a memorandum handed over to her.

The meeting follows after health services at Upington’s Dr Harry Surtie Hospital and the Hopetown Community Health Centre came to a standstill last week.

Staff members at both facilities decided to down tools, claiming that they are working under dire conditions due to a shortage of staff.

Health risk

The provincial deputy chairperson of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa), Gilbert Sak, said that members had withdrew their labour at the Hopetown Community Health Centre as it was a health risk for both staff members and patients to continue operating in the facility.

“We have not closed the facility but withdrawn our labour as the facility is not conducive for patients or staff. It is severely short-staffed and we need to focus on infection control. Staff are expected to conduct several services which opens them up to infections,” said Sak.

“The facility is a community health centre which is operating like a hospital. Members from the department saw last week with their own eyes under what conditions we are working and what it was we were talking about all these times, but they could not get anyone to assist.

“An agreement was taken by the department and the union that the patients from the centre should be placed in safe health care. The department has taken a decision on where they place these patients. We are not merely in need of nurses only but also administration staff as well. Nurses at the centre are currently also expected to perform administration duties.”

Sak said that the lack of services and resources give the community the impression that the staff at the facility have lost their passion for the profession.

“This matter is very worrisome. We have only got five professional nurses. If the department can provide us with six professional nurses and four staff nurses we can work again. We have raised all these issues for the past number of years but nothing has been done. If the department cannot address these challenges, then it leaves much to be desired.

“We also only have one person who cleans the facility. Over weekends the community have to provide their family members with linen as there is nobody to wash the dirty linen. Having one person responsible for the entire facility is a heavy burden to bear.”

Sak urged the department to employ persons with a medical background in key administrative positions.

“We need professional nurses to be part of the human resources department as they understand clinical matters. We need a clinical person to be the head of department, not a policeman. The head of department, Steven Jonkers, spent millions of rand on non-clinical services. We need nurses and doctors when we have asked for medical staff to be employed, we are told there is no money.” Department spokesperson, Lebogang Mahaja said that MEC Makatong made a commitment to address the challenges relating to a shortage of staff.

“MEC Makatong reiterated on her commitment towards reducing the vacancy rate for professionals in the Province, which includes doctors, nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists, that is estimated to be far below 20% as opposed to the alleged 70% and 75%. Currently, the Northern Cape vacancy rate for medical officers stands at 12%, medical specialists 26% and professional nurses 7%,” said Mahaja.

He added that the MEC appealed to all health stakeholders to allow health facilities to function optimally and without any hindrance, whilst engagements continue in an attempt to find amicable solutions.