Silent deaths as Klerksdorp hospital protest drags on
Doctors warn that people may die from not getting their medication as protesters continue to frighten patients away
About 700 patients have not come to collect their medication in the past two weeks at Tshepong Hospital just outside Klerksdorp in North West, according to specialist Professor Ebrahim Variava.
They are turned away by protesters or too scared to walk through demonstrators to get into the hospital, he alleges.
The union Nehawu has been striking for two months against alleged corruption in the North West health department, as well as shortages of doctors and nurses, constant medicine shortages and complaints about the low wages of community health workers.Many clinics remain closed.
On Tuesday, Klerksdorp hospital was almost shut down as strikers once again burst into the hospital and forced nurses and doctors out of their wards.
Variava explained that patients not getting medicine could be fatal or cause complications.
“People not getting medication is a silent killer,” said Variava.
He said of the 100 patients a day that came to the clinic for chronic medication, only about 30 had come in recent weeks.
Some patients have clots in their legs and could develop get strokes without medication.Others need blood-thinning medication to ensure their artificial heart valves don’t get clogged, which could lead to heart failure. Many need HIV or TB medication and without it will develop resistance to the disease. Diabetics are at risk of complications and a higher risk of death.
Variava said: “People are not coming to hospitals. They see the fires burning outside. It can be terrifying to an ordinary person. This is gross intimidation.
“We need Nehawu to say they do not support closure of facilities.”
Yet doctors feel ignored by authorities and civil society as disruptions occur day after day, nurses and doctors denied entry, or prevented from carrying out their duties.
He said the staff at Tshepong wanted to trace the 700 people who didn’t get medication but it would be difficult.
And what is happening at Tshepong probably happens across the province as patients avoid health facilities, he predicted, with potentially thousands not receiving the necessary treatment.As strikers burst into Klerksdorp hospital for the third day in a row, doctors sent this SMS to doctors at surrounding hospitals: “Good day colleagues. Let us realise that the situation is dire and we cannot run the hospital normally. Please let us deal with EMERGENCIES only. Patients in the ward that can be discharged let it be. Transport is being organised to refer back all patients that need to go back [to other hospitals].”
In another SMS circulating, CEOs are requested to cancel all referrals to Klerksdorp.
Staff were also told that, if protesters came into the Klerksdorp Hospital wards, they needed to allow nurses and junior doctors to leave.
“Colleagues as specialists just inform them you can’t leave the unit, but allow other staff to go. Negotiate guys, that is where we are today unfortunately.”
Doctors are becoming increasingly desperate after two weeks of disruptions to hospitals.
Variava said: “We have written a letter to Nehawu. We have written to the health minister.”
The minister has yet to respond.
He said he wanted Nehawu to issue a statement telling strikers to stop disrupting the hospitals.
Foster Mohale, acting spokesperson for the health minister, said he would not be able to respond until Wednesday.
General secretary of Nehawu Zola Sapheta said the union knew nothing of hospitals being disrupted. “This is the first I have heard [of it].”
He said the union condemned hospital disruptions.