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N Cape health workers feel ‘exposed’

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Shortage of hand sanitisers and PPE’s are leaving health care workers at state facilities in the Northern Cape feeling increasingly exposed to the Covid-19 virus.

HEALTH care workers employed at state facilities in the Northern Cape are experiencing a shortage of hand sanitisers and personal protective equipment (PPE), leaving them feeling increasingly exposed to the Covid-19 virus. 

State health personnel said they were issued with one pair of gloves and a mask per day and a theatre apron on occasion. They pointed out that disposable protective equipment should be changed after handling each patient. 

“Once the hand sanitisers are finished, there is no more,” said the health care workers.

A union representative added that cleaners and porters were not given any masks or gloves, while several facilities had run out of toilet paper. 

“Medical staff working with tuberculosis patients do not have masks and gloves. Some front-line medical personnel are buying their own hand sanitisers. Screening at facilities involves using a thermometer that is placed under the armpit,” said the union representative.

He added that an occupational health and safety committee had yet to be established in the Province.

“Training involves the reading of pamphlets and no guidelines have been issued for forensic personnel regarding the handling of infected bodies.”

Emergency medical services (EMS) workers indicated that they will be required to work 30 percent longer than their usual shifts due to the Covid-19 pandemic although they have not received any overtime pay, including for night shifts, public holidays, weekend and standby duties, since December. 

“This is while there is a shortage of staff to cover the workload. Staff are still waiting for uniforms and hazmat suits. The disposable mask is very thin and offers little protection. Our uniforms were last replaced eight years ago.” 

They said that if a patient was suspected of being infected with the coronavirus, ambulance crews were sent home to decontaminate themselves. “This poses a risk of spreading the infection to family members. 

“The ambulances are in a poor condition and are experiencing breakdowns on a regular basis. They are required to travel far distances while vehicles are not being maintained. Some vehicles have clocked in over 200 000 kilometres on the odometer,” they added.

Northern Cape Department of Health spokesperson Lulu Mxekezo said all personnel were remunerated for overtime worked according to human resource policies.

“Overtime will be paid as worked by employees.”

She said that the department was in the process of recruiting and interviewing, in order to fill vacant posts.

“There is an ongoing procurement process of personal protective equipment (PPE) for all front-line staff,” she added.

Mxekezo indicated that the provision of uniforms for EMS personnel was prioritised, where procurement processes were under way.

“Decontamination of equipment and vehicles is done according to the set guidelines and these are readily available at facilities.”

She stated that Covid-19 training was on-going across the Province and targeted all categories.

“Guidelines and protocols are available for handling and packaging of Covid-19 bodies and transportation.” 

Meanwhile, National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union spokesperson Khaya Xaba said they had not yet appealed against the Labour Court decision not to permit essential health care workers the right to refrain from carrying out their duties if they were not provided with PPE.