Cape Town 120503- MEC for health Theuns Botha was on a suprised visit at Eerste River hospital.Picture Cindy waxa.Reporter Sipokazi/Argus

Health workers at the Eerste River Trauma Unit say an increase in patient numbers and staff shortages are forcing them to close their doors for short periods to clear patient backlogs.

Staff members, who spoke to the Cape Argus on condition of anonymity, said that while patient numbers had increased in the past year following a decision to allow walk-in patients instead of only referrals, staff had not been increased.

They say that patient numbers have jumped from about 1 000 patients a month to about 1 600.

Last Tuesday, the hospital’s trauma unit was apparently so full that doctors had to temporarily convert a storage room and isolation cubicles as treatment rooms. The trauma unit also had to close for two hours to allow medical staff to clear the overflowing patient backlog.

Faiza Steyn, spokeswoman for the provincial Department of Health confirmed that the hospital had experienced an “unusual patient volume” last Tuesday, which resulted in temporary closure of the hospital.

But staff claim that it was not the first time they experienced such high patient volumes, and that Tuesday’s was just the latest incident.

A nurse said staff were often “overwhelmed and exhausted” by the increased workload.

“The situation was so bad last week and we had to take a lot of abuse from patients who felt that we were not in control of the situation. There were only two doctors and six nurses during the night shift, and we were obviously not coping with the numbers,” said the nurse.

Another staff member blamed the sudden increase of walk-in patients.

Steyn admitted that an increase in walk-in patients had contributed to the increased numbers, but she denied any staff shortages, saying that the only three vacant posts had people acting in the positions.

“None of the staff reported being overwhelmed or unable to manage the increased volume,” she said.

The hospital came under the spotlight in April after a senior doctor went public with what he labelled a “gross violation of patient rights”.

The doctor, who has since taken the department to the CCMA for unfair dismissal, said he had been targeted by management after he raised questions about a lack of clinical governance. He left the hospital last August after his contract was terminated when it was deemed “irregular” following the translation of certain posts into specialist posts in line with the Occupation Specific Dispensation. - Cape Argus

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