Concern over rise in Covid-19 infections among staff at KZN hospitals
Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg and Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Phoenix were facing an influx of patients.
Staff members at Edendale Hospital protested last week about poor working conditions, including over the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), failure to decontaminate affected areas and workers succumbing to the disease.
Sbu Gwamanda, a National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) representative at Edendale Hospital, said two nurses in different wards had died in the past two weeks.
He said following the strike last week, management of the hospital had acted to address some of their concerns. “By Friday, about 16 of the 22 workers were tested and we want more to be tested as numbers of those at risk are growing every day.
“There are still some outstanding issues, like the deep cleaning of the hospital,” he said.
Sources at the hospital claimed that wards set aside to accommodate Covid-19 patients were already full to capacity.
At Durban’s Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital, the situation was serious, according to hospital board member pastor Mervyn Reddy.
He said, to date, the hospital had about 20 staff members who were in self-isolation at home and were waiting for their test results.
“We are testing about 100 people per day. We have about nine ventilators that are all in use. We have about 15 ICU beds and they are all in use, and we have ward 9 - which is for individuals being investigated because they are showing signs of Covid-19 - which is now full,” he said.
He said even the out-patients department was filled with Covid-19 patients who were in serious condition and even the waiting areas close to the ward had been converted into wards, and some beds were placed there.
Democratic Nursing Association of South Africa (Denosa) provincial secretary Mandla Shabane said they feared Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital would run out of bed space soon.
“We also have concerns with personal protective equipment (PPE) sent to some hospitals.
“A batch of masks supplied to medical staff was clearly labelled that it will not protect the staff from infections as these masks are for construction work. We are concerned that sub-standard masks may have been distributed across the province.”
DA MPL Rishigen Viranna said Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital was facing severe staff shortages even before the pandemic, adding that the situation had worsened.
KZN Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said yesterday that different PPE was assigned to staff, depending on their level of exposure.
However, she said the department had received a complaint on Wednesday about poor quality PPE delivered to a facility in eThekwini, which was being investigated.
Simelane-Zulu added that it was not practical to test every staff member in a hospital, if there had only been infections in specific sections.
“In one facility we can have more than 1000 nurses, so if we are going to test everyone it’s a waste of resources and a waste of time. When we have a positive case, we follow the trace of that health-care worker. We don’t close down the whole hospital,” she said.
However, she said if infections in a hospital were spread across departments, among staff who had not worked together, then the facility would have to be closed.
Simelane-Zulu said it was true that Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital had reached capacity.
“Mahatma Gandhi Hospital is not meant to keep Covid-19 positive patients. Patients go there with other illnesses and are then found to be positive. They are placed in a PUI (patient under investigation) ward and then sent to different facilities,” she said.
She said additional beds had been created to cater for these patients in Wentworth and Clairwood hospitals, and a field hospital was being built in Clairwood.
KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala said on Sunday that the government had observed a “disturbing trend” of more than a dozen illegal strikes at hospitals across the province.
“We were informed through the media that the protests were due to, among others, a so-called ‘lack of PPE’ and infections among staff, and the deep-cleaning of workplaces after staff have tested positive,” Zikalala said.
“The most worrying aspect of this protest action is that most of these bones of contention are smokescreens being used by people with ulterior motives,” Zikalala added.
The premier said there had not been a shortage of PPE for months now.