The Department of Health and unions have established a personal health and safety committee at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban to tackle the rise in the number of healthcare workers contracting Covid-19.
Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said at a media briefing on Sunday that hospital management and unions had set up the committee to deal with challenges regarding Covid-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols. She said all hospitals should have similar committees in operation and the department would ensure they were established.
Simelane-Zulu confirmed that “about 300-or-so” healthcare workers had been infected with the coronavirus at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital, while the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) put the figure at 331 on Sunday.
“It is indeed about 300 or so healthcare workers, but we must remember that we are not only talking about nurses. We are talking about nurses, doctors, administration staff and general orderlies. The number of nurses infected is about 100, and of course that is a high number on its own,” Simelane-Zulu said.
She said the department had on Friday met hospital management and unions to discuss the issue of PPE, which some staff had complained was lacking. She said a decision had been made to establish a committee to monitor the use of PPE and the department had agreed with unions and management to investigate the use of and availability of PPE in the hospital.
“There is no shortage of PPE in Inkosi Albert Luthuli, and I am saying this categorically – there is no shortage, they have sufficient PPE. The challenge that we have in that particular facility is that there are some healthcare workers that believe that they should be given a particular (type of) PPE that is not in the guidelines from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases,” she said.
“Inkosi Albert Luthuli is a very big hospital, and it is a specialised hospital, but healthcare workers there cannot be treated differently than healthcare workers in any other facility. We are committed to ensuring they are given the correct PPE at the correct level they are in. It depends on the level of exposure that is in that facility.
“We are also worried about the fact that there might be an issue with how PPE is utilised in the facility. One thing we agreed upon between ourselves, management of the facility and organised labour, is they need to have a committee responsible for the health and safety of workers. It includes all stakeholders within the facility to ensure they walk about on a daily basis, on an hourly basis, to make sure everyone has PPE on and that everyone is utilising PPE correctly.”
She said the department had last week visited Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, where dozens of workers had been infected, to check on PPE availability and to establish a personal health and safety committee.
The department would check to ensure similar committees at other hospitals were functioning correctly.
“The issue of the infection of healthcare workers is something we need to sit down and correct together. We can’t afford to be pointing fingers at each other, because if we do, healthcare workers are going to continue to be infected. We are working on the challenges they are facing at Albert Luthuli. What we are doing at Albert Luthuli is something we have started doing at other facilities,” she said.
She added that a team of healthcare workers would be rotated between hospitals to resume the duties of staff who had been infected and needed to go into quarantine.
Additional training of staff in the use of PPE would also be implemented.
Nehawu provincial secretary Ayanda Zulu said the union was concerned about the number of healthcare workers that had been infected at Inkosi Albert Luthuli, Edendale, Stanger and Church of Scotland hospitals, but that it was engaging with the department.
Zulu said the committees would play a “crucial” role to ensure health and safety protocols were implemented and the union welcomed PPE-usage training.
“What we are now fighting for is that the trauma unit must be provided with full PPE gear, the same as those dealing with Covid-19.
“Most people who go to theatre are emergency cases and there is no time to do screening to determine whether they have Covid-19 or not, so let’s treat that patient as a patient under investigation,” he said.
Premier Sihle Zikalala said 1 557 healthcare workers in the province had been infected with the coronavirus, of whom 60% were nurses, and 12 had died.