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Nurses stop working after hours over safety concerns

LIMPOPO – Nurses at Mutale Health Centre in Tshilamba, outside Thohoyandou, have stopped working after hours, saying they do not feel safe at night inside dilapidated and damaged buildings.

Established in 1984, Mutale Health Centre used to operate for 24 hours a day before nurses decided to close at 5pm daily. The rural centre, which used to be the first stop for pregnant women when giving birth, has been operating without a maternity ward since 2013 after a thunderstorm destroyed the entire roof of the maternity building.

The centre is also faced with a shortage of running water after a shoddy job was done by contractors who erected boreholes. A shortage of clerks and cleaners is one of the challenges faced by the rural centre.

Situated in the middle of Tshilamba shopping complex, heavily pregnant women who visit the health centre in need of assistance are referred to nearby institutions without being assisted.

“It’s been months now since we have stopped operating at night as we do not feel safe working inside these old buildings at night. Look, we do not even have a maternity ward since 2013 so there is no point for us to operate at night because even if a patient comes here late we will not be able to assist them. We have been pleading with the department to renovate this health centre but it seems like they do not care about our safety and concerns,” said a male nurse stationed at the Mutale Health Centre.

Inhumane conditions

The situation has since forced health officials at the facility to operate under inhumane conditions. It has been badly neglected and is now filthy. Pregnant women who live nearby have to travel to other health facilities for the care and help they need.

“It pains us when we have to refer heavily pregnant women to other health facilities without helping them as the only thing we care do here is to check their blood pressure. Some of the patients do not understand when we tell them that there is nothing we can do to help them,” said the nurse.

He added: “We have heard reports of health officials in Vhembe being attacked while on duty at night and if you look here, all we have are dilapidated old buildings. If people come and attack us at night, were will we hide? Because even some locks of the doors in this building are not functioning. Even though our duty is to help and care about patients, we also have to take care of our own safety.”

He said despite numerous complaints made to both the provincial and district offices of the Department of Health nothing is being done to address the situation.

Last year the MEC of Health in the province Dr Phophi Ramathuba pleaded with the government to pump more money into her department and stop building new facilities until the old ones have been renovated.

“I have been working here for over 15 years, but in that time none of the buildings here has ever been renovated. Almost all the wards here are dilapidated and old, which puts the health of patients at risk. The shortage of cleaners and clerks means the centre is filthy and some of the patient’s files are being wrongly stored or misplaced. Everything here is just a mess.”

Last year the MEC of Health in the province Dr Phophi Ramathuba pleaded with the government to pump more money into her department and stop building new facilities until the old ones have been renovated.

The spokesperson for the Department of Health in the province, Neil Shikwambana said that most of the facilities in the Vhembe district are supposed to be renovated by the National Department of Health, but promised to follow up with the district offices.

“We need to come up with a temporary solution which will ensure that the centre continues to operate for 24 hours while we wait for the renovations to begin,” he said.

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