Steve Biko Academic Hospital health workers attend to patients in the parking lot which has been converted into a ward due to a shortage of space. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)
Steve Biko Academic Hospital health workers attend to patients in the parking lot which has been converted into a ward due to a shortage of space. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Health department lambasted for lack of preparedness for Covid-19 second wave

By Sakhile Ndlazi Time of article published Jan 13, 2021

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Pretoria - The Department of Health was yesterday criticised by medical stakeholders who pulled no punches for their lack of preparedness for the second wave.

The gloves of various health experts and unions had already been off against the department long before the Steve Biko Academic Hospital saga - from the sacking of 983 newly-qualified nurses without any notice, to inadequate beds, wards and resources, to the neglect of their healthcare workers.

But yesterday the department had to take more of this with the SA Medical Association throwing the first punch, lambasting the lack of preparedness despite the warning in September.

They said the country was less prepared than it was for the first wave, despite warning in September already.

In addition, the association said little effort has been made to boost staff complements at hospitals after large numbers of healthcare workers succumbed to the coronavirus.

Dr Akhtar Hussain, board member of the association, said the crises had always been there.

He said they warned the department 30 years ago about poor infrastructure at various hospitals which included Steve Biko. “Although we didn't know that Covid-19 would come, we were already questioning the infrastructure decades before the pandemic.

Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union also said they were appalled at the uninspiring response by the department and its officials at conditions at the hospital.

“Instead of erecting decent structures to shelter patients and medical staff, the provincial department sees it fit to erect tents. It is clear that the government has failed to prepare for this eventuality,” said president of the union Lerato Mthunzi.

She said they had previously stated that the government's failure to adequately prepare facilities for the Covid-19 storm would put more pressure on the healthcare system.

“It is disgusting that people continue to suffer because greedy officials steal from the public purse instead of using funds to improve hospitals and provide the necessary resources,” said Mthunzi.

The Progressive Health Forum, which consists of some of the country's most eminent medical experts, said a “frantic cover-up” now appears to be underway. They said the department could have salvaged or used the perfect opportunity when they received an audit last September on state hospitals. Although the audit was damning about conditions at Steve Biko, it also provided step-by-step remedial action.

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA also weighed in, staying their members felt compromised and neglected by hospital management.

The staff were overworked and exhausted but still continued the battle, especially those working the hospital’s Emergency Unit in the “fever tents”, they said.

The tents are an extension of the Emergency Unit and have been set up for Patients Under Investigation. These are people who are suspected to have Covid-19 and are awaiting results.

They told Pretoria News that they had warned CEO Dr Mathabo Mathebula about the lack of nurses, better oxygen supply and patient monitors during the last phase of the first wave.

The DA’s Health Minister Jack Bloom said some of the problems, like staff complement, could have been avoided, like using the skills of the ousted 983 community service nurses

“According to a Gauteng Health Department official, the provincial budget was cut by R4 billion last year, and R1.2bn in this year’s budget. He said that the department is now engaging with the Provincial Treasury to try and get the funds to employ the nurses.

I am appalled that these nurses are not being employed immediately as they are desperately needed to treat the surge of Covid-19 patients that are overwhelming our hospitals,” Bloom said.

He said there was no excuse for this poor planning and irrational budget cut as community service nurses were supposed to be given posts once they complete their service.

“Gauteng Premier David Makhura needs to intervene urgently to ensure that funds are found to employ these nurses,” he said.

Pretoria News

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