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Critical staff shortage hits surgeries at Frere Hospital

Waiting lists grow as focus is on emergencies at East London hospital

East London’s Frere Hospital faces a critical shortage of staff.
East London’s Frere Hospital faces a critical shortage of staff.

East London’s Frere Hospital faces a critical shortage of staff, resulting in a focus on emergencies, leaving a huge waiting list of those in need of surgery and other treatment.

A whistle-blower at the hospital said there used to be two or three surgical days a week, but now there was only one.

This was the result of nurses and doctors retiring or resigning, and not being replaced, the whistle-blower said.

“In terms of theatre nurses at Frere we are probably about 30 short. We are keeping the ship going with a shell of the staff we had before.

“Nothing seems to be done about this and there seems to be no political will to fix this.

“Our emergency load is excessive because people are not getting the surgeries they need.

“Our wards are full of people waiting for surgery because there is no staff. This has become a crisis.

“This is leading to the loss of more staff because colleagues are frustrated and burnt out.

“As soon as someone takes leave at Frere, the system automatically collapses.

“The frustration is that we are not providing the services the way it is supposed to be.”

Provincial health spokesperson Yonela Dekeda said the department was addressing the staff shortage issue around the province, based on the approved annual recruitment plan for the current financial year.

“The recruitment process is underway with some positions expected to be filled before the end of August.

“At Frere Hospital, 30 speciality nurses resigned, retired, transferred and some died. Replacement is taking place. 

“Officials are entitled to take annual leave but the area manager ensures that services are not affected as alternative arrangements are made.

“This means that the system cannot collapse because one official went on leave,” Dekeda said.

The whistle-blower said the training of staff and junior doctors at Frere was compromised “because there is not enough theatre time or surgical procedures”.

“The patients are the real ones who suffer. There is a huge waiting list of people in need of surgery.

“Only severe emergencies are being taken care of at Frere.

“If you need a hip replacement because your hip joint is worn out, you have no chance until it is broken and you cannot walk.

“But even it is broken, you will have to wait some days.

“Sometimes what could be a simple fix, what could have been done in a day or two, becomes a costly and lengthy procedure.

“If for example a person gets into an accident, it takes much longer to have their wounds washed out and cleaned.

“This leads to infections and it affects people’s work because patients are kept in when they should be discharged. This also results in litigation.”

A nurse who works at Frere told DispatchLIVE that patients whose conditions were not life-threatening were turned away and told to return weeks or even months later.

“Two wards (C8 and C9) are empty, not because they are being renovated or revamped but because there are no staff to work in them. These wards can take more than 50 patients combined.”

The Willowvale mother of a teenager, who was transferred from Butterworth Hospital to Frere after he was  attacked by a group of men, said she was not happy it took days to have her son’s wounds cleaned.

“My son had wounds to his hands. It took a long time to have them cleaned by Frere.

“I was not happy with that. It took over two weeks to have him checked in the scan.

“This all happened while I was in Willowvale and had to travel almost three days a week to check up on him.”

Denosa’s acting provincial secretary, Sivuyile Sikwe, said they were concerned about the slow pace of vacancies being filled at public healthcare facilities.  

“There are nurses who have been directly affected by Covid-19. Some died during the battle.

“This has resulted in a shortage of nurses with the department taking its time to replace them.

“This has also affected the quality and the quantity of services. We are really worried about this.

“We have been engaging the department and have noticed their human resources challenges are also contributing to the failure to replace staff on time.”

Dekeda said Frere Hospital was a tertiary hospital serving nearly half — 2.8-million — of the province’s 6-million-plus population.

“The provision of general surgery and orthopaedic surgical services are affected by the reduced theatre time. Emergencies are prioritised. 

“Elective surgeries are prioritised in between. There are cases that have long waiting periods due to the high demand for emergency treatment at Frere.

“It must be noted, however, that the specialists at Frere are continuously providing clinical support to those patients awaiting beds. 

“The department has noticed some relief since the Cecilia Makiwane Hospital recruited another orthopaedic surgeon, and this is helping in the treatment of orthopaedic patients, alleviating pressure from other hospitals that ordinarily refer patients to Frere.”

Dekeda said Frere management regularly met employee representatives over various issues. 





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