North West babies in boxes: ‘Nurses are forced to improvise’

A picture circulated on social media, showed newborn babies in boxes at the neonatal unit instead of incubators.

A picture circulated on social media, showed newborn babies in boxes at the neonatal unit instead of incubators.

Published May 30, 2023


Pretoria – The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) said the acute shortage of equipment can be blamed for the incident where infants were placed in boxes at the neonatal intensive care unit of the Mahikeng Provincial Hospital.

While North West health MEC Madoda Sambatha has announced that he has instructed the department to institute an investigation, as a matter of urgency, Denosa insists the matter does not need any investigation.

“It is the daily reality that health-care workers are always faced with in the health-care service centres due to the shortage of equipment and resources,” said Denosa North West provincial secretary Reuben Molete.

“As a matter of context, the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital, which is the ICU for infants soon after their birth, has been short of 20 incubators and cribs for a long period of time now, with no sign of these coming.

A picture circulated on social media, showed newborn babies in boxes in the neonatal unit instead of incubators.

“The unit has 25 incubators, and had more than 55 babies on the day in question, looked after by only seven nurses,” Molete said.

He said the matter of procuring the incubators and cribs has been with procurement departments for a long time.

“Denosa would like to see the MEC focusing on those who are supposed to ensure that the incubators and cribs are procured, which are not the nurses as that is not their function,” Molete said.

He said the Mahikeng Hospital provides the “highest level” of care that there is in the whole of Ngaka Modiri Molema District.

“The only option the health-care workers often have in situations where the facility is full is to either turn the patients away or keep them in an inappropriate unit for their illnesses or refer them to facilities of equal level of care which are two hours away either at Tshepong Hospital Complex in Klerksdorp or Job Shimankane Tabane Hospital in Rustenburg,” Molete said.

“Denosa is concerned that the act of being surprised by the management of this incident is nothing but a mere argument of convenience and yet another attempt to throw under the bus the dedicated and hard-working health-care workers who are always forced to improvise under these constant conditions that are characterised by reduction of budgets for procurement of equipment and resources in health-care facilities.”

The organisation which represents nurses argued that the only investigation needed is why it has taken this long for the procurement of these essential incubators and cribs “when indications of their urgent need was made a long time ago”.

“Due to underfunding in health-care facilities, it has become extremely dangerous for health-care workers to do their work without any risk of either litigation or charges of misconduct against as a result of shortage staff, equipment and resources.”

“That is why many are fleeing the country for better opportunities overseas where conditions are far better than they are in their country’s facilities.”

Last week, pictures of newborn babies in boxes, circulating on social media, sparked concerns, with many slamming the North West Health Department.

On Friday, the “Northwest Times” said it had launched an investigation into this, as the babies were reportedly placed in boxes instead of cribs in Mahikeng Provincial Hospital.