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Eastern Cape health care workers cry for help

Image: Reuters

The Dispatch has been inundated with messages, voice notes and letters from health care staff complaining about how the Eastern Cape health department is handling the Covid-19 crisis.

Some videos show nurses in Mthatha being addressed by union leaders on how to handle the news that their colleagues have tested positive.

A letter from one hospital staffer explained the reasons staff decided to down tools, while another accused the department of hiding results from the public.

But health department head Dr Thobile Mbengashe said health workers  needed to be trained so they could understand the virus properly.

What follows is some of the correspondence the Dispatch has received.

  • Workers at Victoria Hospital in Alice said there were six confirmed Covid-19 cases at the hospital —  five staff members (four in administration, one clinician). They said there had been one death. “We are in a death trap here.”
  • In Mthatha General hospital, a 30-second video shows workers crying as they are addressed by a union member who is trying to calm them after nine staff members tested positive. Some staff ask why they were being forced to work while their colleagues had tested positive. A nurse is being comforted by her colleague while crying. The union member tells them this is a “very painful time”.  An accompanying 17-second voice note says their results had come back and almost all the workers who were tested at Mthatha General Hospital had the virus.
  • At Mdantsane's Nkqubela TB hospital, workers leaked a letter from management urging them to go back to work. The workers insisted that they needed to self-quarantine. “I have just been informed that deep cleaning is finished in the admin (sic) block, patient admin and laundry. It is kindly requested that all staff who have received negative results should report to work with effect from tomorrow. Also we have received the results from the 8th and 11th May, fortunately they are all negative. I will forward the officials that are negative from the above dates. All are kindly requested to report back to work tomorrow.” The letter is signed by a doctor at the hospital.

Mbengashe said the nurses were being misinformed about Covid-19 and this was causing panic.

“We need to skill our staff before the pick-up (of the virus) between June, July and August comes. We don't want a situation where we see nurses and patients sick in our hospitals. Health care staff need to know what is the cause of Covid-19 infection and how people are catching it,” he said.

“Our health care workers should know this,” he said.

He said nurses had a perception that Covid-19 was present in the air.

“This is fake information that feeds into the fear of the person.”

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