Just when the Department of Health should be stepping up and caring for the sick and vulnerable, they are closing their hospital doors, because they haven’t taken sufficient measures to protect their own staff, who are at the frontline of the fight against the spread of Covid-19.
In the past 24 hours they have had to close Livingstone Hospital in Nelson Mandela Bay and shut down three units in Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in East London.
This is symptomatic of the deepening health crisis that is taking place in the Eastern Cape.
Head of Department, Dr Thobile Mbengashe, has declared that the provincial response to the Covid-19 pandemic is adequate. This is clearly not true; this is a department that is in crisis!
As Covid-19 infections escalate, one would expect the province’s response to be ramped up proportionally. Sadly is appears to be going the other way!
In the Nelson Mandela Bay district alone, no less than fourteen health facilities have embarked on strike action to protest the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment and the desperate shortage of staff.
The shortages of PPE have not been addressed, despite both MEC Sindiswa Gomba and Dr Mbengashe insisting that there is sufficient PPE for health care workers. If this were the case, there would certainly not be such a spike in the number of health care workers testing positive for the Covid-19 virus. Currently 218 health care workers have tested positive.
In some health facilities, it is alleged that health care workers have been forced to continue working while waiting for their test results to come back. Other workers allege that they have been lied to about their results, first being told they are negative and they should continue working, only to find out that they had in fact tested positive for the virus.
The severe understaffing (another matter which the HOD insisted had been resolved), the lack of sufficient medical supplies, the lack of support services such as laundry services, and the constant threat of becoming ill simply proved too overwhelming for the frontline staff.
It was only a matter of time before frontline workers downed tools and hospitals closed their doors.
Even the EMS services have had enough and are refusing to work.
I have written to MEC Gomba, as well as the Eastern Cape Premier, Oscar Mabuyane, to urge them to take immediate steps and get their house in order. They need to ensure that the health and safety of frontline workers is prioritised across the province so that they can reopen these facilities.
It is time for the Health Department to step up and do their work. The closure of hospitals at a time like this is unacceptable and is an indictment on the weak leadership in the Department of Health.