THE Eastern Cape chapter of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) feels strongly that the time has come seriously to tackle the healthcare challenges in our province.
We have therefore joined the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition, a broad coalition of organisations committed to fixing the healthcare crisis in the Eastern Cape. Our next steps toward that goal will be taken together with thousands of people as we march on Bhisho on Friday to demand our rights.
As nurses, we are the people who have to look patients in the eye and tell them we have no drugs, we have to tell a pregnant mother that we can't take her to theatre for her caesarean because there aren't enough nurses, and we have to turn our backs when distressed patients can't breathe and we have no oxygen. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed urgently, but from Denosa's perspective the following are critical:
ıShortage of nurses: health facilities are operating with skeleton staff because of the failure to fill vacant posts or the length of time it takes to do so, the freezing of posts that remain unfilled after several months and the directive only to fill vacancies that arise in the current year. The situation is exacerbated by long working hours, and lack of management and community support, which lead to nurses burning out;
ıNon-payment of salaries and benefits: the delays and non-payment of salaries date back as far as 2007. Many nurses who should be considered for the occupational specific dispensation (OSD) have not been paid or do not receive their back pay;
ıFailure to fill key positions: examples include Mthatha Academic Hospital, which has not had a nursing service manager for six years, and Livingstone Hospital and Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital, where the posts of nursing service manager have not been filled for the last three years. We are aware of nurses being victimised and forced to do these jobs without compensation.
This flies in the face of the Health Department's own policies. The policy is clear when it comes to acting positions: incumbents must be paid the difference between their permanent salary and that of the acting position;
ıEquipment and supplies shortages: we know of facilities that don't have simple diagnostic equipment and where broken equipment is never replaced. Slow delivery of medicines and other basic necessities compromises the quality of care.
These shortages are most acutely felt in the rural areas. The public protector, who identified this problem when she visited Eastern Cape hospitals, has also commented on these shortages;
ıEducation: the staff shortage is the reason given for denying many nurses the opportunity for continuous development or study leave. For example, last year nurses at SS Gida Hospital were denied study leave after they had been given permission to further their studies;
ıSupport and respect: to enable nurses to supply quality healthcare, there has to be support from management, the community and our clients. However, given the conditions under which they are required to work, nurses are increasingly reluctant to conduct certain procedures because they know they will be blamed when something goes wrong.
This has reduced the trust between the patients and nurses.
The time has come to take the first steps on the road to better health services for the Eastern Cape. Denosa and the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition are acting now.
Kholiswa Tota, provincial secretary, Denosa Eastern Cape