Linen shortages due to go-slow at Livingstone and Provincial hospitals hits admissions

04 June 2020 - 09:27 By Nomazima Nkosi and Angela Daniels
Patients wait to be attended to at the Provincial Hospital in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday.
Patients wait to be attended to at the Provincial Hospital in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday.
Image: Eugene Coetzee

A dispute between unions and management at Livingstone and Provincial hospitals in Port Elizabeth has now trickled down to affect patients, with some turned away over the past few days.

A doctor at the Provincial Hospital, who asked not to be named, told HeraldLIVE that staff had stopped washing linen and, without bedding, patients could not be admitted.

Union members, however, said it was not a case of members refusing to wash linen but rather staff shortages that were causing problems.

On Wednesday, health department spokesperson Siyanda Manana said the department was aware that workers were on a go-slow, a great concern in light of the global Covid-19 pandemic. 

The dispute centres on personal protective equipment (PPE) and also, according to  National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) Nelson Mandela Bay secretary Sweetness Stokwe, because non-clinical staff had been told that they would not be paid overtime from June 1.

Hospital management and unions were locked in meetings for much of Wednesday.

A patient activist at Livingstone Hospital said the laundry issue had been going on for some time and  the Igazi Foundation — a haematological services NGO based at Provincial Hospital —  had been asked to foot its own laundry bill and obtain its own PPE.

PPE in the Bay has been a thorny issue since the spread of the coronavirus, with constant protests, staff go-slows and claims that hospital management were keeping back PPE.

Eastern Cape provincial command council chair and premier Oscar Mabuyane said in a report, released on Tuesday night, that 191 health workers from the public and private sector had tested positive for the coronavirus, 71 of them from the metro.

A concerned Livingstone staff member sent pictures of the casualty unit, saying general workers were afraid to work as they did not have personal protective equipment, leading to a mess in the casualty unit.
A concerned Livingstone staff member sent pictures of the casualty unit, saying general workers were afraid to work as they did not have personal protective equipment, leading to a mess in the casualty unit.
Image: Supplied

Speaking on the situation at Livingstone, the patient activist said: “We’re more worried about patients.

“Doctors and all other staff are also not happy.

“Doctors are sympathetic to the fact that all health workers don’t have sufficient PPE, but labour is not budging.

“The hospital could soon run out of clean linen, and when that happens it’ll start blocking patient admissions.” 

A Livingstone Hospital source said the situation was dire and soon only critical and emergency cases would be seen to. 

“Imagine, you could be in an accident and if they feel it is not life-threatening, they could send you home,” he said. 

He believed the provincial government was hiding behind  hospital management.

“It is their [the government’s] responsibility.

“They are buying PPE and that’s a major problem.

“I believe there is only five days’ worth left and doctors have been using sterile gloves that are meant to be used in theatre. It is costing a lot of money. 

“General workers don’t have PPE, so they are refusing to work. 

“It is touch and go now. As from today [Wednesday], some general workers have stopped working,” the source said.

He said some patients had already been turned away.  

As of Tuesday, the province had 4,324 Covid-19 cases and 29 deaths.

Nelson Mandela Bay has been identified as one of the major hotspots in the country.

Stokwe defended Nehawu members, saying  they were not refusing to wash linen but had simply stopped going over and above their job requirements.

A concerned staff member sent pictures of the Livingstone Hospital casualty unit, saying general workers were afraid to work as they did not have personal protective equipment.
A concerned staff member sent pictures of the Livingstone Hospital casualty unit, saying general workers were afraid to work as they did not have personal protective equipment.
Image: Supplied

“There’s a huge staff shortage at Livingstone hospital and, for the longest time, our members have been doing the work of many people,” she said.

Stokwe said staff at Livingstone had been told that non-clinical staffers would not be paid overtime as of June 1.

She said this was telling and showed what the department felt about non-medical staff.

“Workers feel unappreciated by management and now they must feel what it’s like not to have them there, going the extra mile.”

Stokwe said President Cyril Ramaphosa had announced a R500bn coronavirus budget and she wanted to know how much the different regions would get out of the Eastern Cape budget.

A doctor from Provincial Hospital said the linen problem was a major issue.

“Without bedding, you can’t admit patients,” he said.

“I believe the problem is the same at Livingstone.

“We send our linen to the laundry at Livingstone and it is just not coming back.”

The doctor said he already knew of a few patients who had been turned away.

“We are very concerned for our patients,” he said. 

Manana confirmed the meeting between the staff and management.

“We are aware that there is a go-slow by workers, which is a cause for concern at this crucial time of Covid-19.

“The go-slow has been going on for the past two days.

“The washing of linen has not been outsourced but we will be forced to contemplate outsourcing if the situation persists,” Manana said.

Meanwhile, the finance MEC’s spokesperson, Mzukisi Solani, said provincial government departments had spent R421.9m on procuring Covid-19-related equipment.

Solani said suppliers based in the Eastern Cape had benefited from the orders.

“As of May 22, all provincial departments, except the Eastern Cape provincial legislature, had placed orders for Covid-19-related requirements. 

“The provincial government is arranging a transversal contract for PPE items that can be sourced from Eastern Cape-based manufacturers in line with the local economic development procurement framework,” Solani said. - HeraldLIVE


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