By BONGIWE DLAMINI | 2021-01-19
NURSES based at the Mavuso Exhibition and Trade Centre turned COVID-19 Quarantine Centre yesterday abandoned patients and took to the streets in protest against poor working conditions.
The protest unceremoniously started yesterday morning after Senior Matron Mfanawenkhosi Maseko was seen leaving the institution while nurses waited to meet with him at the conference room situated within the Mavuso Trade Centre.
The over 20 protesting nurses wanted an audience with the senior matron to discuss their issues arising from the poor working conditions while they are expected to efficiently take care of critical COVID-19 patients.
According to the nurses, it was not their intention to protest but they did not understand the matron’s act of leaving the premises at a time of their scheduled meeting.
In the meeting, the health practitioners said they wanted to relay a litany of issues that they encounter while on duty.
One of these was that due to the long hours that they spend at work, most of the nurses and doctors are fatigued so much that they are now depressed and burnt out. They said as a result, most of them have even collapsed while on duty. The health practitioners revealed that this was a health risk because when on duty, a single nurse attends to about 35 patients at once, meaning, when making their rounds in the five wards, one nurse does it per shift. Last Friday, two nurses who were making their rounds in the wards collapsed.
“This is risky because, they could collapse and die when unattended to promptly,’’ said one nurse.
In addition to this, the nurses stated that of late, a number of their colleagues had reported ill-health which is a sign that they are exhausted.
Some, according to the aggrieved nurses, have illnesses that have grown to be more serious due to their lack of rest since they are always at work.
“More often than not, we work about 14 hours per shift. Sometimes even after one has knocked off duty after working so much hours, we are recalled back at work,’’ stated the health care workers.
Further, since last year, the nurses said they have not been able to go on leave as their superiors refused them some time away.
Those that were earlier granted leave were also recalled back to work.
On another note, the issue of risk allowances was included in the list of grievances that the nurses want their employer to address.
They said healthcare workers in the country were being overworked. The nurses said this is more so because while other civil servants have been set to work in shifts and others to work from home, nothing has been done to ensure that the health practitioners do not contract or spread the virus.
“These latest working arrangement for civil servants is acknowledgement enough by the government that the pandemic is an issue so since we are on the frontline, we now demand the risk allowance as provided in government’s general orders,” they said.
Furthermore, the nurses stated that due to the fact that they have no personal protective equipment (PPE) this exposes them to the risk of contracting coronavirus hence all the more need for the risk allowances.
The Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU) Manzini Regional Chairperson Nhlanhla Mhlanga said the health workers eventually met their senior matron before noon yesterday and they did not appreciate the manner in which Maseko reacted to all this.
“He appeared calm in this dire situation so we gave him until 8am tomorrow (today) to give us the answers we seek. If we are still not satisfied, we will not return to work until we are heard,” the nurses said.
It was for this reason that the nurses took to the streets in protest. They sang and danced outside the Mavuso Centre premises, blocking traffic to and from the Manzini Bus Rank direction. The health workers displayed placards with messages of what they want to be addressed.
‘GOVT KILLING EMASWATI’
The nurses based at the Mavuso Centre claim that the government is deliberately killing COVID-19 patients by continuously placing them at unventilated Mavuso buildings.
They said the rehabilitation of the COVID-19 wing at the Tuberculosis Hospital at Moneni has been completed yet the government continuously comes up with political reasons of not transferring the critical patients there.
“Seeing Emaswati die here traumatises us a lot, that’s why we want the critical patients to be moved to a more well-equipped building.
The Mavuso pavilions are not hospitals and the buildings are not ventilated enough to allow the flow of fresh air,” said Nhlanhla Mhlanga, SWADNU’s Regional Chairperson.
Other nurses stated that the government is responsible for the death of patients who die at the centre because she knows that the nurses there cannot offer the sick anything more than oxygen.
“Most of our patients are diabetic but there are not enough glucometers here. These things cost less than E400 each,” Mhlanga said.
A glucometer is a medical device for determining the approximate concentration of glucose in the blood.
These are not the only unavailable tools needed by the health workers on a daily basis but there is also a lack of N95 masks, standard apparels that they wear while on duty. Due to the lack of the N95 masks, the nurses said they are forced to wear surgical masks when going into wards.
On another note, they complained that when the COVID-19 was declared national emergency, the government hired nurses on 10-month contract basis which they feel is uncalled for as healthcare workers are an essential service.
“Currently, we orient nurses that are temporarily here. After their contracts expire, they get deployed to other centres and we are left to orient new ones over and over again.
This demotivates both the temporary and permanent nurses,” they complained.
PS warns nurses to abandon boycott
PRINCIPAL Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr. Simon Zwane last night urged Mavuso Trade and Exhibition Centre turned COVID-19 Quarantine Centre to abandon their boycott and return to work immediately or else they will face disciplinary measures.
Dr Zwane said as the ministry they were not aware of the planned boycott as nothing had been forwarded to them regarding their issues until yesterday’s action which placed patients’ lives in danger.
He then ordered all the nurses in that facility to return to work of face disciplinary action in relation to dereliction of duty.
Also Director of Health Services Dr. Vusi Magagula acknowledged that the ministry of health has received the nurses’ grievances.
However, he said the relevant stakeholders were still to deliberate on them and that they would respond accordingly.
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