The union said its members had been exploited and overworked for too long, with the Health Department “dragging its feet” on employing paramedics qualified to handle referrals and transfers.
Mandla Shabangu, Denosa provincial secretary, said the department had disregarded their demand to stop using nurses to escort patients who were being transferred to other facilities.
“We told the department to stop this by the end of this month, but in a circular issued on January 10, the department said it would do away with the practice by May," he said.
"This practice forces nurses to work outside of their professional scope and has been unfair to both nurses and staffing levels at health facilities. It is paramedics who should be doing this task as they are trained to do so,” Shabangu said.
He said this practice undermined the nursing profession.
“When a nurse escorts a patient, there is no replacement for this nurse in a ward. And this escorting has been used by the department as means to avoid addressing the shortage of paramedics.
“Nurses are being used to fill the gap, worsening the already dire shortage of nurses in government health care facilities. This is exploitation and must be stopped by end of this month,” he said.
He blamed the poor treatment meted out by nurses to patients on work overload.
“One colleague less in a ward means work overload to the remaining colleagues, hence the grumpiness and sometimes the never-ending complaints about poor treatment of patients by nurses,” Shabangu said.
Dr Imran Keeka, DA spokesperson for Health, said the problem was the shortage of paramedics in the province.
“Using nurses as escorts reduces the ability of nurses to function. The province has an average of 180 ambulances on the roads.
"On average, we should have 10 paramedics per shift as per the national health norms and standards.
“During visits to two ambulance bases in the Amajuba and uThukela districts last year, the bases operated on 30% to 50% less ambulances.
"This escorting increases workload and stress, and it creates angry nurses,” Keeka said.
Department spokesperson Ncumisa Mafunda did not address specific questions regarding the number of paramedics needed in the province.
“The department has now approved a new policy to escort transferred patients. However, nurses will still be required to accompany mental health care users. The new policy will take effect on May 1,” she said.