Corpses kept on beds in North West hospital for days

Hospital bed.
Hospital bed.
Image: 123RF/Lucian Coman

Nurses at a North West hospital have been forced to play a game of musical beds with mothers waiting to give birth inside an overcrowded maternal ward.

Staff at the Brits District Hospital's maternity ward said a shortage of delivery beds meant mothers with newborns had to sleep on stretchers.

The hospital is one of many in the province where healthcare is on the brink of collapse.

Two of the 12 fridges in the mortuary have not been working, forcing staff to keep some corpses on hospital beds for days.

Due to the conditions at the hospital, overworked porters, according to nurses, were refusing to deliver medication from the pharmacy to the wards. "As a result nurses have to leave the patients inside the wards to fetch the medications themselves."

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA chairwoman, Motlalepule Ramafoko, said she received calls from frustrated staff members at the hospital two weeks ago. Ramafoko said nurses wanted to down tools due to unbearable working conditions.

She said there had been a high influx of patients at the hospital because surrounding clinics shut down their maternal services due to lack of water. Some clinics had security issues which made staff fearful of working at night.

Ramafoko said issues faced by staff at Brits were widespread in the province.

Sowetan spoke to nurses who said they were on the brink of downing tools because they could no longer cope with the stress.

One senior nurse said while the maternity ward only had six delivery beds, they sometimes get 10 deliveries at a time. The woman, who asked not to be named for fear of being victimised, said they have to place expectant women on the beds according to who is closer to delivery.

"But if someone walks in and the baby is almost there we have to remove one of the other women from the bed and put her on a chair. The other patients just have to sit there," she said.

The nurse said they have 13 beds for the postnatal care ward but on busy days they get as many as 40 mothers who have been admitted after delivery. "We have to put people on stretchers along the corridors while some have to sleep in pairs."

When Sowetan visited the hospital yesterday, the ward had 21 admissions.

The nurse said this was more than they should take in.

Extra beds and stretchers could be seen along the corridors of the ward.

The hospital's neonatal ward is not functioning because of shortage of personnel. Infants who need admission have to be transferred to other hospitals.

Provincial health department spokesman Tebogo Lekgethwane said they were aware of the problems.

"The department is aware of the issues that happen due to overcrowding. There has also been a shortage of nurses."

He said they had briefed the national department about all the problems in the hope that they would be resolved under the section 100 intervention.

In Mahikeng, where Nehawu held its national day of action yesterday, the provincial hospital was crowded with frustrated patients.

Mmathapelo Seilamashe, who did not want to disclose her illness, said she was concerned about her deteriorating health. "I am scared because I am starting to get more sick, I cannot afford to buy my medication at the pharmacy."

Another patient, Maletsatsi Malibo, said her baby girl had missed the 18-month immunisation treatment.

"My wish is for this horror and torture to end, we have been patient but now they are gambling with our lives."

Only military medical officers and assistant nurses were left working.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi received a memorandum of demands from Nehawu members. He said those who stole from the poor would face the full might of the law.

"If there is any evidence of corruption that we are going to find in all the investigations, the people who did that must face the music because very clearly corruption and development cannot be mentioned in the same sentence, they do not belong together," he said.

Nehawu president Mzwandile Makwayiba said the government must listen to them to avoid danger. "When people go to hospitals they believe it's us who do not deliver services ... but it's the government that refuses to invest in public service."

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