Nursing conditions are 'appalling' - unions

Health workers hard at work in Setjwetla, Alexandra, testing people in the area for Coronavirus. Today is International Nurses Day. / Thulani Mbele
Health workers hard at work in Setjwetla, Alexandra, testing people in the area for Coronavirus. Today is International Nurses Day. / Thulani Mbele

Trade unions in the health sector say working conditions of nurses must improve in order to help in the fight against Covid-19.

Today, is International Nurses Day, and it comes at a time when healthcare workers are in the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Unions have raised concerns about the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers and and improvement in working conditions.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) spokesperson Khaya Xaba said nurses were still being constantly abused verbally and physically by people they serve. Xaba said nurses still faced poor occupational health and safety standards informed by poor infrastructural conditions, lack of resources and high risk of exposure to infections and lack of psychological support.

He said there was still discriminatory policies on salaries and benefits, and nurses still lived in substandard residences.

Xaba said the government could help improve conditions by providing adequate PPE and training on infection control in relation to all communicable diseases. He also called on the government to pay a risk allowance to nurses.

"There should be a re-establishment of breast-feeding and childcare facilities to reduce the psychological stress that comes with being separated from their children. There should also be employer assistant programmes to provide nurses with psychological support. We also want designated staff sick bays and occupational health services where nurses work," he said.

Nurses have not been provided transport and accommodation during the national lockdown as public transport is restricted.

"Nurses, as frontline workers, put their lives on the line to provide care to Covid-19
patients and/or suspected cases. They are anxious and worried about their own lives too. They are involved in massive community screening to identify suspects in the communities and they require full co-operation and protection."

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa general secretary Cassim Lekhoathi said the contribution of nurses to the wellbeing of society was more important than ever before now that the globe was facing the pandemic.

"The World Health Organisation and the International Council of Nurses launched the World Nursing 2020 report, which highlights the very critical need for all governments to invest in nursing.

"The report reveals that today, there are over 28-million nurses worldwide, but this still leaves a global shortage, with the greatest gap found in Africa. To avert this shortage, countries need to increase the total number of nurse graduates."

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