No meds, no beds, general mayhem, but patients keep on coming
As Nehawu strike drags on with no end in sight, hospitals nationwide are plunged ever more into crisis
Despite North West – and its health department – being placed under administration, patients feel scant relief.
At Potchefstroom Hospital, medicine shortages abound – and fingers are pointed at the Nehawu strike at the medicine depot since February.
Simple antibiotics that can be life-saving in some circumstances are out of stock, a doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
The doctor also claimed:
• The telephone lines at some clinics don’t work, so staff use cellphones to make emergency calls.
• Ambulances either do not answer their telephone calls or do not prioritise emergency calls.
• If desperate doctors call private ambulance services, they try to hold the doctors alongside the patients responsible for the call-out fee.
• Doctors who continue to work are continually threatened.
• Doctors are prevented in numerous ways from giving the neediest patients proper care.Clinics this week remained closed across North West with nurses who wanted to work facing massive intimidation and threats.
The doctor also claimed: “Patients visit the facilities that are open and staff are totally overwhelmed by numbers.”
She said patients on second line treatment for HIV have been put on drug holidays of one month, but it will be now going on for two months.
Pharmacists are also struggling as pharmacy assistants’ contracts have been terminated from April.
“The department of health is supposed to be under administration and the army has taken over the depot in Mmabatho but no orders are being delivered.”
North West has a National Health Insurance pilot project in the Kenneth Kaunda district – but many of the doctors hired to improve staffing and service have left, and not been replaced.
“I feel the most tragic victims in the situation are patients and their families, which is unacceptable.”
Dr Ebrahim Veriava, who is collecting reports from doctors across North West, said protestors were blocking the entrance of Lehurutshe Hospital in Lehurutshe district to stop direct pharmaceutical deliveries to the hospital.Nursing union Denosa complained that in North West patients were sharing beds, nutrition at hospitals was poor and there was a lack of water at some clinics.
The union said in a statement: “Nurses are salvaging the situation by using their cellphones and torches to deliver babies in some of the provincial hospitals in the province.”
Denosa added: “Patients are bringing their own linen and blankets from home and infection control measures are not observed. Government’s patients’ transports are so old and not roadworthy that nurses are supposed to use cars to transport patients.”
But these issues are not restricted to North West.
A nurse from Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the staffing shortage was causing nurses to burn out and make mistakes.
The Gauteng department maintains “critical” posts will be filled.
The nurse said there are frequent issues with clean linen and a doctor has confirmed air conditioners in some wards have been broken for months.The nurse confirmed there are no cups for water and that, in her ward, staff bring cups for the patients.
This was also the experience of CJ Carrington, a Johannesburg resident who spent 10 days recovering from a breast reconstruction operation.
She said there was no sheet on her bed, which had dried blood on it, and no pillow slips – if one was lucky enough to get a pillow.
She recently posted on Facebook on how to “survive a government hospital”.
She suggested: “Bring a Mug and #straw: Because you don't get anything to drink out of. And you most likely won’t be able to reach it if you did anyway. #Waterbottle with #water: BECAUSE YOU DON'T GET GIVEN WATER, OR ANYTHING ELSE TO DRINK.
She added: “Don’t cry, you need the hydration of the tears. There is no water.”Yet a doctor speaking on condition of anonymity said Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic hospital was one of the better-run hospitals in the province.
Safety is always a concern. Just this past weekend, a patient from Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital was stabbed to death by another patient.
In the Eastern Cape, a recent editorial by The Herald said it was the norm for healthcare to be poor.“For years the Eastern Cape health department has succeeded in diminishing our expectations of what a functioning health system looks like at the metro’s state hospitals.
“Nobody is held accountable, but patients are forever reminded of how dependent they are on these failing public healthcare facilities.”National department spokesperson Foster Mohale said the national Health Department “was aware strikers were still disrupting medicine supply and that doctors and nurses are chased away from their workplaces”.He said he was aware that deliveries of medicine directly to clinics were affected when clinics and hospitals were forcibly closed. Suppliers have been instructed to bypass the medicine supply depot where staff have been striking since February.
“We are getting reports of disruptions and intimidation of staff.”
He said the administrators, minister of Health and director-general were in ongoing discussion with Nehawu strikers.
He said the list of demands from strikers was very long – from Premier Supra Mahumapelo resigning to better working conditions, payment of bonuses, more nursing staff and less financial mismanagement in the department.
Mohale said on Thursday that the national department had not heard reports of delayed ambulances so it could neither confirm or deny them.