GroundUp: Doctors and Nurses down Tools in Eastern Cape Hospital

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Doctors and nurses downed tools on Wednesday at Mpilisweni Hospital in Sterkspruit, Eastern Cape, demanding personal protective equipment (PPE).

This was the facility’s second protest since the Covid-19 lockdown. Last month, nurses and doctors stopped work for a day in protest. They returned to work after management promised them PPE. That protective gear was supposed to be delivered last week, Tuesday.

The protesting staff said management has been relying on other hospitals in Queenstown and Aliwal North for PPE, and rumour is that there is no stock in Mthatha.

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) shop steward and chairperson in Sanqu Local, Mphathiswa Patreni, said they refused to risk their lives. “We have people who are working at maternity wards. Those people are dealing with blood. They cannot work without gloves. Even the people at casualty cannot work without gloves,” said Patreni.

In 2017, the community shut down the small town of Sterkspruit because the hospital had only two doctors. After the protests, more doctors were appointed. Patreni said currently there are about ten medical staff, including two physiotherapists, a dentist, and pharmacist. But the new doctors were meant to be assisted with accommodation. The hospital had at first rented flats in town for them, but then stopped, citing a lack of funds.

“Doctors are now threatening to leave. We are already short-staffed and we cannot afford to lose these doctors. The community needs them,” said Patreni.

A group of 13 health workers from Masonwabe clinic in Ngcobo, near Mthatha, who screen people for Covid-19, told GroundUp that they had been working without PPE for the past two weeks. Engcobo Local Municipality last week said 11 people had tested positive for Covid-19 in the small town.

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One of the health workers, who did not wish to be named, said they bought their own masks. They were issued masks and gloves on the 24 April but were told to use them for no more than seven days.

Eastern Cape Department of Health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said the department continues to make every effort to provide PPE

and the Department of Health had sent them over 1.5 million masks.

Kupelo said PPE will be delivered to hospitals in need.

He did not respond to questions regarding the accommodation of doctors at Mpilisweni Hospital.

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