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Hospital patients abandoned during strike

MPUMALANGA – After two days of being left to cope without meals, clean gowns and bedding, patients at Themba Hospital in Kabokweni, Mpumalanga are once again receiving proper care. Disgruntled workers are the hospital embarked on strike action on Monday citing bad working conditions as the cause.

According to reports patients did not get served their normal meals as kitchen and laundry services at the facility have been shut down from Monday (16 April).

The staff affiliated to Nehawu (National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union) have accused hospital management of making decisions that have led to to the disruption of patient care services including extending the catchment area for the already overcrowded hospital.

But health services were resumed fully on Wednesday following discussions over a memorandum detailing problems faced by the hospital. Union leaders have confirmed that they have decided to return to work after they had reached an agreement with the department earlier today.

According to the Treatment Action Campaign, only the ICU and maternity wards remained in service during the strike. All other services were suspended for two days.

The union claimed that the Mpumalanga Health Department’s referral policy is directing all clinics under Rob Ferreira Hospital to refer people to Themba Hospital, resulting in large numbers of patients not being attended to due to staff shortages and insufficient resources.  

Increased waiting times

The TAC in Mpumalanga says this has increased patients’ waiting times to more than eight hours for those in need of medical attention, and a further decrease in the quality of the healthcare the hospital provides.

NEHAWU’s deputy secretary in the Ehlanzeni region, Siphiwe Nyawo, told Health-e that the staff at the hospital have not been coping with the influx of patients and blamed the officials for implementing its decision to extend the areas the facility serves without consulting the workers.

“It was hasty for the department to put this referral policy in place because we do not have space and personnel to deal with the patients. Patients come here at 5am and sometimes leave only at 7pm.”

Nyawo says often patients have to leave the facility without getting help because they stay far away from the hospital.

“We need a district hospital because as a regional hospital we should not be getting patients referred to a district hospital,” said Nyawo.

Last week the staff at the hospital gave the department and management a week to reverse the new referral policy. The policy which was implemented in October last year,  has compounded the problems faced by the institution including persisting water shortages and sanitation blockages.

Water shortage

TAC Mpumalanga Provincial Officer Bearer, Owen Nhlanhla, says the water crisis means there is less available water for washing, so patient gowns and linen are not always being washed.

“From our own fact-finding missions and monitoring we have picked up shortages of staff as a critical issue of concern at Themba Hospital,” said Nhlanhla.

Despite the problems, the institution faces, Nehawu has accused the department of decreasing operational budgets and canceling staff contracts. In a memorandum, the union also demanded a budget increment of 50% and an immediate reversal of the decision to appoint an acting CEO.

Nhlanhla said the TAC supported the workers’ demands for more staff and better working conditions at the hospital.

“This will ensure more timely healthcare provision at the hospital and will reduce the burden on overstretched workers, thus improving the level of care and staff attitudes. Further, we support the call for the hospital to have functioning equipment in the hospital to ensure patients are able to receive the services they require in a timely manner,” he said.

The protesting workers say they are unhappy with an acting CEO being appointed and wanted suspended CEO Mduduzi Shabangu reinstated. 

“The department is using other people and setting them up for failure. The current acting CEO was doing a good job as Nursing Service Management and now he has been appointed to this new post where he will fail,” said Nyawo.

This is not the first time that Themba Hospital has been in the news. Last year activists reported that fridges at the hospital were broken and bodies stored in them were rotting. 

Nyawo said they department has promised to meet with the staff this week to address their concerns. 

Mpumalanga Health spokesperson Dumisani Malamule said officials were aware of the problems at the hospital and efforts to resolve the conflict were underway.

Staff at the hospital confirmed to Health-e that hospital services were all back to normal and running as usual.

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