Nurses refuse to treat Covid-19 patients without protective equipment

21 April 2020 - 15:52
By Soyiso Maliti
Nurses at an Eastern Cape hospital have refused to treat 19 Covid-19 patients because they have not been supplied with appropriate personal protective equipment.
Image: REUTERS / Eduardo Munoz Nurses at an Eastern Cape hospital have refused to treat 19 Covid-19 patients because they have not been supplied with appropriate personal protective equipment.

Glen Grey Provincial Hospital nurses have refused to help coronavirus patients who were rushed from Cala to the hospital in Cacadu at the weekend.

A video sent by nurses to DispatchLIVE shows staff standing outside the hospital building in a show of defiance. The nurses said they will not treat the infected patients until they receive personal protection equipment (PPE).

They said there are 19 coronavirus patients at the hospital.

The Eastern Cape government moved the patients to the hospital in the town, formerly known as Lady Frere, on Friday after the Cala community expressed disapproval about transport MEC Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe's link to the B&B which initially housed them.

The patients had not received any assistance since arriving at the hospital on Friday, nurses and their union said.

While they have been attending to other patients in the hospital, nurses have been avoiding the TB and surgical wards for men, which is where the 19 patients have been accommodated.

Three nurses told the Dispatch they had downed tools, but only in these sections of the hospital. They remain in service in other wards.

Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba's spokesperson, Judy Ngoloyi, said premier Oscar Mabuyane would address matters concerning the hospital on Tuesday. She had not updated the comment by print deadline on Monday.

One of the nurses, who cannot be named as she is not authorised to speak to the media, said: “We have refused to help them simply because we don't have protective equipment.”

She said the patients had still not received any assistance on Monday.

“Nothing has changed since the weekend. They need food now. They've been asking for food.”

One of the nurses described the ward accommodating the patients as “unfit” for people who had tested positive for Covid-19.

For one, she said, there was no air-conditioner in the ward.

She said: “The ward is exposed to another ward with TB patients and this could spread, so we don't want to expose ourselves to that.”

Another nurse said: “We are being victimised by management to nurse the Covid-19 patients without PPE.

“A roll call has been done by the CEO [Inga Sontamo] and nurses have to state their names and surnames and state that they refuse to help the patients. We've been told we'll be dealt with later.

“Sontamo told staff this was a directive from the higher-ups and that if we don't take them in, he would be charged. The hospital board tried to convince the government otherwise, but was not successful.”

Sontamo referred queries to the health department.

Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA provincial secretary Khaya Sodidi said: “There was no PPE — of any kind for that matter — at the weekend at all. Nurses were not on a go-slow as such. They were just refusing to assist the group that has tested positive for Covid-19.

“What has happened, once they were taken to the ward, is that management wanted staff to help the Covid-19 patients without PPE. We can confirm that hospital management has threatened staff members who refused to attend to the patients.”

He said the patients were not attended to over the weekend.

Sodidi said the union was questioned why the patients were taken to Glen Grey, which is about 80km from Cala, as it is “not a Covid-19 designated hospital”.

The health department in March announced the Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth as the province's designated hospital for Covid-19 patients, while the Nelson Mandela Academic and Frere hospitals were given “holding facility” status.

Sodidi said: “The department [on April 4] issued a circular talking about three categories of protective clothing.

“This meant once we have suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients, staff members are supposed to get advanced equipment. The patients taken to Glen Grey are confirmed cases of Covid-19, but Glen Grey has nothing of that level.”

Dispatch contacted national education, health and allied workers union provincial secretary Mickey Jaceni, who at the time of writing said he was engaging provincial health authorities in a meeting and would respond later. By print deadline he had not done so.

On Saturday, Dispatch reported that 14 patients had been staying a lodge owned by Tikana-Gxothiwe's daughter, Kwakhanya Tikana, in Cala.

It was alleged that normal procurement processes had not been followed.

However, Mabuyane leapt to his MEC's defence, saying there was no evidence of any wrongdoing.