Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital nurses have alleged that the hospital management has endangered their lives and the lives of others by not disclosing confirmed Covid-19 cases at the hospitalThe nurses from Ward A of the hospital allege that they are told by their superiors to not disclose their status if they test positive for Covid-19, and that their managers have lied to media outlets, saying that personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks, have been distributed to staff. 

The hospital management deny these claims, stating they have a “very clear plan” on how to deal with suspected and confirmed Covid-19 cases among staff, and that the hospital has “never” run out of PPE. 

‘Our lives are at risk’ 

Health-e News spoke to one of the nurses from Ward A at the hospital. She has remained anonymous, for fear of repercussion from the hospital management. 

My life is at risk. When a patient tests positive they never tell us, but they say the patient is a suspect while they know the patient is positiveWe are also told not to disclose our status if we test positive, and we are forced to come to work although we tested positive. We are very worried because we have families that we might infect with the virus,” she says. 

The nurse also raised the issue of PPE in the workplace, stating that most nurses are not equipped with the proper protective gear and that herself and her colleagues are “vulnerable” to coronavirus.   

“We don’t have protective gear here, and we feel unappreciated by our government and management. As we speak, most of our colleagues have tested positive and we work with them. They were told to come to work and not say anything about their status. They [hospital management] always say they have provided us with PPEs but we don’t have them,” she explains. 

For nurses in Ward A, their concerns are life and death, and according to the nurse, they really feel unsafe. 

We are afraid that we will die and leave our children because of the carelessness of health department. 

DENOSA weights in 

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) provincial chairperson Sivuyile Mange told Health-e News that this is the first time these concerns have been heard by anyone at DENOSA.  

“They have a provincial occupational health and safety committee that deals with monitoring the health and safety of the health care workers. I am surprised that this case had not come to me,” says Mange. 

Every healthcare facility must have a committee that monitors the availability of PPEs and “if there is a positive Covid-19 case the place needs to be decontaminated and staff members, quarantined,” adds Mange. 

Denosa spoke broadly about the issue and condemned unethical acts towards healthcare workers”. 

“It is absolutely against the law to force nurses to work under these conditions. Across the province there are a lot oreports like these, and we are not pleased by how the managers are treating healthcare workers,” expressed Mange. 

“We will not compromise the health and safety of workers and we really need to make sure that frontliners are a high priority.  

Allegations dismissed 

Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital’s Acting Director Clinical Governance, Dr Mzulungile Nodikida, said they have tested all their staff members and that only those who have passed screening and testing may enter work. 

“We have 60 beds dedicated for Covid-19, meaning there is 30 ICU beds and 30 beds for the ward with ventilators, which keeps person under investigation (PUI). For the ICU we test all our staff members when their seven day shift ends, to check if they have not contracted the virus. Again, before they come back to work on Monday, they get screened. And if one fails screening, they get tested. We only allow back to work those passed screening and testing,” Nodikida reiterated. 

He dismissed the notion that some patients who tested positive Covid-19 are said to be suspected cases in their staff, saying that “we treat every case of Person Under Investigation (PUI) as a positive case until they are cleared by the tests.” 

We have also tested more than 400 of our staff and as of the 9th of June only 24 tested positive. We have a very clear plan and if a staff member tested positive, we risk assess and screen their contacts. We never run out of PPEs in this facility,” Nodikida continued. 

‘Battling against fear’ 

Eastern Cape health department spokesperson, Sizwe Khuphelo, dismissed claims that they threaten staff into keeping their Covid-19 status a secret.  

We are a health department and there is national health act that guides our policies. The patient-doctor confidentiality remains. We are not at liberty to disclose someone’s status, and we can’t. Nurses or doctors – those policies apply to everyone. We never instructed nurses to not disclose their status, and we have an opendoor policy. 

Khuphelo says that, although PPEs have been distributed to all facilities, frontline healthcare workers are battling with the anxiety and fear that surrounds Covid-19 infection and treatment.  

“With regard to what we’re facing, apart from Covid-19, is battling against fear.” – Health-e News