THE Gauteng Health Department was never prepared and could never be prepared for the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union.
Covid-19 new infections continue to soar, with 24 000 new infections reported in Gauteng in the past week.
The Gauteng Health Department’s weekly statistics show the province has over 30 000 active cases, which accounts for over 40% of all active cases in South Africa.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases also confirmed on Thursday the country was now officially in the third wave.
Rich Sicina, the secretary-general of the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union, who works as a nurse at a hospital in Vosloorus, said it was impossible for the public health sector to be prepared for the pandemic as there were shortages of staff.
“The Department of Health was failing our people even before Covid-19, the public health sector was never ready for pandemic and it will never be ready,” he said.
Sicina said the population in Gauteng was growing rapidly, while government was not doing enough to build new hospitals to serve communities, or build new wards at existing hospitals.
“Our hospitals are overwhelmed, the public healthcare sector is overwhelmed, the situation is abnormal and it cannot be solved overnight.
“We need to build new hospitals or add four or five wards to existing hospitals, but that is not happening.
“Just because we have Covid-19 admissions does not mean admissions for other illnesses have stopped, those people still require admission, and I am telling you, when you go to the emergency areas such as casualty, you find no social distancing and other people die waiting for beds because wards are full,” he said.
“We are stretched, we end up using emergency departments to give medical care. So we have a case where we end up using them as admitting areas because the ward is full and there is nothing you can do,” he said.
Sicina said healthcare workers were under strain and were doing the best they could in the situation, but he said workers felt neglected over a lack of adequate PPE and resources.
“During the first and second wave, we went as far as creating floor beds when the wards are full because there is nothing you can do, the patient has to be admitted, but the ward is full. You cannot send them home, so we use sponges as floor beds because there is nothing we can do.
“At the ICU wards, a nurse is supposed to oversee one patient, but they end up overseeing more people because there are staffing challenges, this is the situation nurses are dealing with every day,” he said.
Sicina added that as Gauteng entered the third wave admissions appeared to be on the increase and were “getting out of hand”.
He said each bed had oxygen and they used oxygen cylinders to help patients who were on floor beds, but they had to share.
He said the situation was abnormal as the oxygen cylinders were supposed to be used for emergency situations only.
“It is tough on the ground, there is a gross shortage of material PPE, but we always improvise. What can we do?” he said.
“I become angry when I see a politician articulating lies about PPE where on the ground, we are banging on the doors of hospital CEOs for PPE. We had to occupy admin block and down tools demanding PPE.
“I had to nurse a positive person for four days without PPE. Some of our colleagues have died, they say I am scared, there is a nurse who is not here with us today, she served a patient without PPE, that nurse is no more today,” he said.
“To be a nurse in South Africa, you need more than the calling, you need patriotism and commitment, otherwise, you will crack and relay your anger onto patients,” he added.
Sicina said government had to scale up its mass vaccination programme if it was to reach herd immunity.
Meanwhile, questions have been sent to the Gauteng Health Department to respond to the union’s assertions.
But in the Gauteng Health’s weekly Covid-19 update, the data showed that there were over 3500 people admitted to hospitals due to Covid – among them 1085 were in ICU.
It said 550 patients were on oxygen, while 398 were on ventilators – both in the general and ICU wards.
In a statement on Thursday, Gauteng Health spokesperson Kwara Kekana expressed concern at the rising number of Covid-19 infections in the province.
“The Gauteng Department of Health is concerned by the alarming increase in Covid infections.
“Non-pharmaceutical measures remain the best method of containing the spread of the coronavirus.
“The department urges all people in the province to do their part to protect themselves and to help contain transmission of the virus, by adhering to the preventative measures – physical distancing of greater than 1.5 metres, wearing of masks, and hand hygiene, avoiding public spaces and gatherings, and to seek care early if you develop symptoms.
“The province continues to monitor adherence to Covid measures in communities, schools and other public spaces. The province is also intensifying its contact tracing efforts in especially the hotspot areas,” said Kekana.