Oxfam South Africa report on health care inequality says while the sector relies heavily on women, they are underpaid and forced to work long hours.File Picture:  Matt Rourke, AP
Oxfam South Africa report on health care inequality says while the sector relies heavily on women, they are underpaid and forced to work long hours.File Picture: Matt Rourke, AP

Fatigue leads health-care worker to neglect patients as they're forced to work long hours for low pay - report

By Tebogo Monama Time of article published Jul 1, 2020

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A new report on health care inequality says while the sector relies heavily on women, they are underpaid and forced to work long hours.

Oxfam South Africa’s report, “The Right to Dignified Healthcare Work, a Right to Dignified Health Care for All”, states that unfair labour practices and underpaying nurses and community health-care workers compromises the health-care system, leaving it unable to deal with pandemics like Covid-19.

The report released on Tuesday showed nurses and community health-care workers, two professions made up mostly of women, have had to work long hours in unstable conditions to make ends meet. This was an effort to curb the effects of stagnant pay.

Dr Basani Baloyi, Inequality Programme Lead at Oxfam SA, said: “Nursing and health-care workers are culturally seen as feminine sectors therefore women in general and black women in particular are over-represented. Nurses are the backbone of health-care workers. To be a feminine sector is to be unrecognised, underpaid, invisibilised and undervalued.”

She said because of wage stagnation for nurses and the use of labour brokers, they found themselves working longer hours and moonlighting. This, the report said, lead to a tired workforce and to neglecting patients.

“In 2015, a self-survey of 3784 nurses in 80 public and private sector hospitals found that nearly 30% had reported moonlighting in the previous year, with the odds approximately 1.5 times higher for mothers.

“This not only affects the personal welfare of nurses and community health-care workers, but also their ability to provide safe patient care when on duty,” the report said.

“They are finding themselves working longer hours and therefore crippling their ability to care for patients. They work more than they humanly should. Burnout, stress and exhaustion are common. This leads to negligence,” Basani said.

Oxfam’s private sector policy advisor Ruth Mhlanga said low remuneration has far reaching consequences.

“This means you have a workforce that is constantly being deskilled under the guise of cost savings. We have nurses and health-care workers that do not feel their work is fairly rewarded. That contravenes human rights and attributes to their physical and mental well-being. This is also coupled with the social norm where society views care work as a calling and therefore under- values it and does not see it as worthy of good remuneration. Community health-care workers are forced to take second jobs or precarious loans from loan sharks.

“We are calling for a transparent health-care system that is moving towards universal access, that is resilient and takes better care of the workers. We need to recognise and fairly reward the work our heroes on the front line: our nurses and community health-care workers are undertaking. This ensures living wages across the sector.”

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