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Nurses fear for their safety as Covid-19 gear shortages hit hospitals

A nurse in the isolation unit at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town. / Gallo Images /Misha Jordaan
A nurse in the isolation unit at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town. / Gallo Images /Misha Jordaan

Work has become a serious risk for health workers in various parts of the country as they have to handle patients without all the required protective equipment.

As Nehawu was scheduled to bring its matter on the safety of its members before the Labour Court yesterday, health workers revealed to Sowetan the difficulty they face working without all the required personal protective equipment (PPE).

One nurse who works in the casualty ward of a hospital in Mpumalanga said health workers were faced with serious shortages of equipment.

His ward has been receiving about 30 patients a day which is lower than numbers before the lockdown.

Patients coming to the facility have different conditions such as heart problems, high blood pressure, injuries and many wanting to be tested for the coronavirus.

The nurse said under normal circumstances, workers in the ward have to wear aprons, put on gloves and depending on the condition of the patient, also have to put on face masks.

"With the lockdown and the coronvirus outbreak, we are supposed to have gowns to cover the whole body. We have to put these on as the virus can survive on clothes. The gowns are important because when I finish work I go straight home, I could infect my family. We are supposed to have long gloves and masks."

He said they only have gloves, a surgical mask, an apron and sanitisers.

"Even with the masks that we have, we are trying our best to control their use because we are running out.

"When we first raised the issue with management they told us it is expensive to get full protective gear for us. You have to understand, there is a ward dedicated to patients with corona symptoms. Even the nurses that work at the ward wear the same protective equipment that we wear."

His worst fear is going home.

"Before I get inside my home, I take off my shoes, get inside and take off all my clothes. I have a separate bin where I throw all my uniforms and seal it. I then take a bath before I have any interaction with my girlfriend and my three-year-old son. I am so scared. Today I will be taking my son elsewhere because I cannot risk his life here with me.

"My girlfriend works as a cashier at a local supermarket. If I were to infect her, how many people will she pass the virus on to at her work?"

Another nurse at a clinic in Northern Cape told Sowetan that an official from the national health department came to their facility and was informed of the dire shortages of PPE but nothing came of it.

"What we are using now is surgical gloves. We are supposed to use those only for surgical procedures. But now we have to use them for protection. We just have one box," she said.

She said nurses had no masks, gloves and gowns to protect them in case a patient showed symptoms. Fortunately no patient has required isolation so far.

"How am I supposed to risk my life without having protective equipment? I am a breadwinner with three children and a grandchild. I cannot risk my life like that," she said.

She said she also ensures that she puts away her uniform and baths before having any contact with her family.

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