Staff picket over plan to convert TB hospital to treat Covid-19

Emergency medical services and unions say personal protective equipment is in short supply

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Photo of protesters
About 40 staff picket at the entrance to the Empilweni TB hospital in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, on Thursday. Photo: Joseph Chirume

Nursing staff are unhappy with a decision by the Department of Health to convert Empilweni tuberculosis hospital in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, to a Covid-19 treatment centre.

Staff have been picketing since Wednesday, waving placards and singing at the hospital entrance.

Regional chairperson for the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) Vuyo Nodlawu said initially the Department had proposed converting only a section of the hospital for Covid-19 patients.

“This was planned in the event that the pandemic worsened in the metro and that other centres offering many beds were full. We are surprised now that they have taken over the entire hospital,” said Nodlawu.

He said bedridden TB patients were transferred to other hospitals. Those able to walk were taken to their homes.

“Our members were never given training to deal with Covid-19 cases, though the department reassured us on Wednesday that health professionals would be roped in to train [our] nurses,” said Nodlawu.

He said personal protective equipment (PPE) was still in short supply.

However, Eastern Cape Department of Health Superintendent-General Dr Thobile Mbengashe, addressing the media on Tuesday in Korsten, said there were adequate supplies of PPE, procurement had been centralised, and wards were monitored daily.

“Our wards are to be classified according to the risk requirements to determine [which ones] need high level or medium level PPE,” said Mbengashe.

But Port Elizabeth Emergency Medical Services spokesperson Msuthu Ndlovu disputed this: “We don’t have enough PPE. An ambulance in Nelson Mandela Bay that is dedicated to ferry Covid-19 patients has one employee with PPE, while the core worker does not have.”

Ndlovu said that since the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic lockdown ambulances were not sanitised.

Shop steward for the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers Union Mzikazi Nkata also said that the PPE situation “is just getting worse”.

GroundUp is waiting for a response from Eastern Cape MEC for Health.

TOPICS:  Covid-19 Health TB

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