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Mothers fear for babies’ lives

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Mothers with premature babies at Kimberley’s Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital are living in constant dread because the paediatric unit is severely understaffed and they feel that their babies are not receiving adequate care.

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MOTHERS with premature babies at Kimberley’s Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital are living in constant dread because the paediatric unit is severely understaffed and they feel that their babies are not receiving adequate care.

“All we can do is cry and pray that our babies will make it out alive,” one mother said yesterday.

The mothers stated that up to 14 premature babies had died in the past month at the facility.

“There are only three nurses to attend to 45 premature babies in the intensive, high care and both premature units. The nurses are trying their best but they are not able to do all the work. There is not enough staff to do regular rounds to ensure that the oxygen tubes are secure. Our babies had turned blue in the face and were struggling to get air when we went to check up on them.”

They added that they had to suction their babies clogged noses. “We use our mouths to open their airways because we do not know how long we will have to wait for someone to come to our assistance. The babies were given their medication six hours late last week.

The mothers said that they feared for their babies’ lives.

“A student nurse struggled to insert a feeding pipe without supervision. The baby contracted an infection and had to be taken to the intensive care unit. All our babies have contracted lung and blood infections and suffer from apnea. They are constantly sick and are picking up weight extremely slowly, as there is only one mother who is able to express enough milk for all the babies. We are constantly stressed that our babies may die due to lack of care.”

It was reported that up to 27 nurses had resigned or left the neonatal ward in the past six months.

“The nurses, who work long shifts, are not even able to take leave as they are called to come back to work.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) and the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) stated that their members would down tools if the situation did not improve, as a matter of urgency.

Denosa deputy provincial chairperson Gilbert Sak stated that due to staff shortages, student and assistant nurses were being forced to work beyond their scope of duty.

“They stand to be held criminally liable in the event of any incident that is beyond their control. They could also to lose their nursing licences because they are not supposed to be working in a high care facility,” said Sak yesterday.

“Not only is this environment not conducive to the provision of patient care, but it is unacceptable. We will withdraw our members if this continues because it is a high-risk area that requires specialised clinicians. At this point there are only two clinicians and three paediatric doctors who have to attend to 127 patients.”

Sak indicated that nurses who had applied and were interviewed for employment at the hospital in September were still waiting to hear if they were successful.

He said that a meeting had been scheduled with management for today to discuss the staff shortages.

“If there is no positive feedback we will embark on a strike.”

The provincial manager of Hospersa, Andre Harmse, stated that there has been a shortage of nursing staff in the paediatric unit for the past six months.

“We have been trying with no success to put pressure on management to fill nursing vacancies. The only response we received was that there was no money, although this is a critical and basic need. No one can work under these circumstances and the skeleton staff at the hospital are only able to do so much. It is inhumane and unacceptable to expect medical staff to take on such a huge workload,” said Harmse.

He added that they were preparing to embark on industrial action.

“In Hopetown, staff have already started striking due to a shortage of nursing staff.”

The spokesperson for the Department of Health, Lulu Mxekezo, said that they were trying to fill vacancies as a matter of priority.

“In all organisations, employees resign for greener pastures and some retire when they reach retirement age. The Northern Cape Department of Health is experiencing challenges that are common in every institution, but we are trying to fill vacant posts as soon as it is possible,” said Mxekezo.

She indicated that nursing students undergoing practical training at all health facilities were supervised at all times according to the training prescripts.

“The complications at the neonatal ward or any other paediatric ward differs. Such are sensitive and confidential matters between health practitioners and families, hence we cannot divulge nor discuss such sensitive issues.”