Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Nurses want trauma counselling as third wave approaches

By Rudolph Nkgadima Time of article published May 13, 2021

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Cape Town – Nursing unions say they want the government to provide them with counselling facilities, as the country braces itself for a third wave.

According to the unions, the second wave had a devastating effect on the health-care workers and many had to resign as a result of the trauma of dealing with a high number of deaths.

A total of 339 health-care workers died of Covid-19 related illness in South Africa between March and November last year, with most deaths occurring in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said 25 health-care workers (HCW) had tested positive for Covid-19 in the last seven days.

"Cumulatively, 56 059 healthcare workers have tested positive, of these 14.35% (7 839/56 059) required admission, 6 881 (87.78%) have been discharged, and 83 currently admitted. Health-care workers constitute 3.51% of all cases of Covid-19 reported in the country,” he said.

General secretary of health and other services personnel trade union of South Africa (Hospersa), Noel Desfontaines says insufficient PPE, staff shortages, poor working conditions and limited support measures continue to be a thorn in the flesh for many nurses.

“As the country braces itself for a third wave of the coronavirus, nurses will again be called upon to lead the fight against the virus. If we are serious about shaping an improved health-care system of the future, nurses’ demands cannot continue falling on deaf ears. Nurses must be provided with counselling facilities to deal with the anxiety created by this deadly virus as more and more nurses fear for their lives,” Desfontaines said.

Speaking at an online webinar hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, psychiatrist Dr Peter Milligan said health-care workers could face serious burn-out or mental health illnesses if symptoms are undetected or left untreated and it could erode professional behaviour at work and relationships at home.

“We don’t yet know the timing or dimensions of the third wave, but there’s no question that repeated trauma has consequences, and so does repeated stress in this way have consequences. Perhaps each time we are a bit better prepared and resourced, but I think that we need to keep up the work in terms of mental preparedness,” he said.

Denosa spokesperson, Sibongiseni Delihlazo, also called on government to provide enough support and resources to nurses to ensure that they do their work well.

“The second wave was worse, most devastating. We saw a high number of admissions, not only that but also a high number of deaths of patients and this has taken a toll on them. Some of them have resigned, not because of any other employment but because of depression, they have had enough,” he said.

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