PRETORIA: Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi exacerbated an already explosive situation by saying patients deserved better than the “devils in white”, referring to nurses in public health-care facilities.
The minister allegedly uttered these words during an International Nurses Day event last Thursday in Seshego, Limpopo.
Motsoaledi is said to have labelled public health practitioners as uncaring. He said this was resulting in an increase in the number of nurses attacked by community members and patients.
He said patients deserved compassion and love, warm smiles and soothing hands when they went to health facilities. He told hundreds of nurses they should not reduce patients to people who were just collecting medication and wanting injections.
He encouraged them to fix their attitude or face the wrath of the law as the new health ombudsman would be looking out for the ill-treatment of patients.
But nurses did not take kindly to this and accused the minister of giving an impression that he hated them, which, they said, could fuel the hatred of nurses by society.
“We condemn the reckless usage of such words,” said the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) spokesperson, Sibongiseni Delihlazo.
He said the use of the words characterised nurses as devils.
But Motsoaledi’s spokesperson, Joe Maila, said the public’s take on the minister’s speech was unfortunate and misleading.
“The minister did not call nurses devils,” he said.
“He only called for nursing to be taken seriously. He said it, nursing, was the backbone of the health-care system and needed to reclaim its standing in society.”
Maila said what Motsoaledi meant was that patients wanted to be attended to by angels in white uniforms. He said people were deliberately trying to mislead the nation.
“The minister did not taint nurses’ image, but hailed them as heroes and angels in white.”
In the months leading up to Nurses Day, Denosa said their members feared being attacked and threatened to derail the public health system if the incidents continued.
“The lack of security leads to countless attacks and, if there is no urgent improvement, we will withdraw nurses from facilities under threat,” Delihlazo said.
Young Nurses Indaba spokesperson Lebogang Phehla said they already feared being robbed, raped and killed, and irresponsible statements such as those of Motsoaledi would only worsen matters.
The country has been hit by an exodus of health-care professionals in recent years, with nurses heading overseas in pursuit of better pay and improved working conditions.