Covid-19 Emergency Medical Services News

#CoronavirusSA: PPE woes take a toll on frontline workers at work and home

Written by Nelisiwe Msomi

The lack of personal protective equipment causes increased stress and anxiety for doctors; a new study shows. 

 

Research from the University of California San Francisco shows how frontline healthcare workers suffer from higher stress levels due to constant worries about infecting their families and loved ones with Covid-19. 

Of the 426 healthcare workers surveyed in the study, all work in emergency departments and have experienced increased stress levels both work and home, including worrying about exposing relatives and friends to the virus. 

Doctors said that the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) has the largest impact on their anxiety levels and the provision of it can bring about the “greatest relief”. 

Doctors said that inadequate rapid diagnostic testing, the risk of community spread by discharged patients, and the well-being of coworkers diagnosed with Covid-19 are also factors for increased stress levels.  

PPE struggle in SA 

As part of their fact-finding results, trade union National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) found that there was a deficiency in PPEs in facilities that the union visited. 

“The bottom-line with regard to PPEs is that they were never adequate in the first place, the available PPEs are still not adequate in terms of what is experienced by our members at institutional level, and for the projected peak of the epidemic, especially when measured according to the requirements of the full complements of different categories of staff,” the union says. 

The union says that almost all facility managers said that they did not have an idea as to how long these PPEs would last and there is no plan in place to avoid stock depletion. 

Nehawu found that health workers at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital had to resort to using refuse bags to protect themselves. 

Members of the union allege that they have been victimised for raising questions on the shortage of PPEs, the absence of daily screening of healthcare workers, and the refusal by managers to allow workers to go on self-isolation if they reasonably suspected that they may have been exposed to the virus. 

Corruption intensifies issue 

Last week allegations of PPE corruption were levelled against Gauteng’s Health MEC, Dr Bandile Masuku, which lead to Premier David Makhura putting him on special leave. 

Masuku and his wife Loyiso are reported to being linked to a controversial R125million PPE tender. 

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) says that corruption allegations pose a threat to the provision of proper medical care to patients. 

“As doctors, we are on the frontline of fighting coronavirus every day – putting our own and our family’s lives at risk every time we report for work to assist the sick. When medical equipment such as PPE is the focus of an alleged wrongdoing, we expect immediate and urgent action. Unless it is done and seen to be done, irregularities will continue, and continue to burden an already over-stretched health sector,” says Dr Angelique Coetzee, the SAMA chairperson. 

Healthy coping mechanisms 

According to the research, there are four ways that doctors can mitigate stress and anxiety. These are: improving access to PPE, increasing the availability of rapid turnaround testing, clear communication about Covid-19 protocol changes and assurances to access to self-testing and personal leave for frontline providers.  Health-e News 

About the author

Nelisiwe Msomi