Nurses 'overwhelmed, at risk of burnout' as cases soar above 13,000

'They put in the long hours ... they hold the hands of patients when they die'

17 June 2021 - 15:14 By iavan pijoos
Denosa voiced concern about the welfare of nurses in Gauteng. Stock photo.
Denosa voiced concern about the welfare of nurses in Gauteng. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Yuriy Klochan

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) on Thursday warned that nurses in Gauteng were overwhelmed, overburdened and at risk of burnout as Covid-19 cases in the country soared above 13,000 over a 24-hour period.

“They are losing their colleagues and loved ones in the process, so the nurses are not coping at the moment. But it is not only nurses, we are even seeing it with doctors,” said  Denosa acting provincial secretary Bongani Mazibuko.

Mazibuko said the workload was intense, and healthcare workers at times pulled 72-hour shifts or worked 7am to 7pm for up to four to five days a week.

“It means you are going to have people coming to work but they lack the willpower to work because there is so much work and they are not getting enough time to rest and recuperate.”

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said on Wednesday that SA  recorded more than 13,000 new Covid-19 cases in the previous 24 hours.

In its latest statistics, the NICD said 13,246 new cases were recorded at a positivity rate of 21.7%. Gauteng was at the forefront of the growing numbers, with 7,859 new infections.

According to the worldometers.info website, the last time SA recorded more than 13,000 cases in a single day was on January 16, when 13,973 new infections were registered.

Mazibuko was “extremely worried” with the rising number of cases in the province.

“We’ve got Charlotte Maxeke Hospital closed with about 1,000 beds and on top of that we have Helen Joseph Hospital and Rahima Moosa being overburdened with paternity patients and other patients,” he said.

“We have a shortage of beds and a shortage of nurses and according to us, Gauteng is not in a position to properly cope with plans for the third wave. I would say there is a failure to plan from government.”

He called on the provincial government to reopen the Nasrec field hospital, open a centre in Tshwane and appoint more nurses.

“The private sector is already almost at full capacity and the public sector is already not coping. Where are the patients going to go?

“It means that either someone is not thinking properly or someone is just not taking the precautions they ought to be taking.”

Bloemfontein Mediclinic hospital manager Carl Buhrmann said they had 60 patients in the Covid-19 wards and 22 in ICU.

“We have had stability now for the past four weeks,” he said. 

Dr Cloete Jansen van Vuuren, infectious disease specialist at the hospital, said there was pressure on hospitals to provide ICU beds for Covid-19 patients.

Van Vuuren said hospitals around the country were struggling to create space and the increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients was “overwhelming”.

He said it was a “big worry” to see younger people being infected with Covid-19 and falling seriously ill.

“The tragedy is that the vaccine is available for people older than 60, but we see a lot of younger people who do not even qualify for the vaccine.”

Van Vuuren praised nurses working long hours and going “above and beyond duty” to care for patients under extreme pressure.

“They put in the long hours and hard work, they hold the hands of patients when they die and they comfort the families. It is mind-blowing what they are capable of.”

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