The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] has called on the government to ensure that healthcare workers are fully protected from the coronavirus at the hospitals they serve. Members visited workplaces in the Western Cape this week as the number of frontline workers to be infected with the coronavirus spirals out of control. The provincial health department confirmed at least 3000 health workers have contracted the virus and several who have succumbed since the outbreak began in March.
Nehawu first deputy-president Michael Shingange explained that members visited various hospitals in the province throughout the week, including Somerset and Groote Schuur on Thursday, to conduct inspections. The union was expected to visit Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain’ day hospitals on Friday.
Shingange recalled how the union had taken the government to court in March, for not prioritizing healthcare workers on the frontline, ahead of the then less intimidating number of coronavirus infections. At the time, governments move to backtrack on a wage-commitment also drew the unions outrage, where healthcare workers were due to get a salary increase.
The procurement of sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) continues to remain a concern, as Shingage explained that although managers would have the figures ‘on paper’, this may not translate to physical deliveries. He also stated that there are times where PPE is provided but is not the appropriate gear.
“Sometimes, you will see staff wearing a mask but it is not the right mask for that area in the hospital that’s why they end up contracting the virus”
The union also pointed out that there has been a continuous shortage of staff at healthcare facilities and that nurses and doctors having to undergo quarantine and at times treatment, the added strain has been put on staff, exacerbating the level of stress. A lack of staff has not been the only thing lacking, as bed-space has also proven to be of concern.
“All ICU wards are about 95 % full. In a few weeks to come, we may not be able to accept patients,” he said.
Shingage emphasised that after interacting and being briefed by workers, the management is thereafter contacted (immediately) to seek solutions.
The issue of training, he said, is one of the non-negotiables and which was lacking, particularly to train how to protect themselves and the public and the establishment of the occupational health and safety hazard committees, which has the responsibility of monitoring processes. This team is also required to have staff aboard.
Nehawu is expected to engage with the health minister and the president of coronavirus command council to ensure the demands receive a response within a week; “otherwise our workers must refuse to touch any dangerous work because their lives matter too.”