DoH delays volunteer appointments as staff shortages lead to tragic death of Wentworth patient

Issued by Dr Rishigen Viranna, MPL – DA KZN Spokesperson on Health
13 Jan 2021 in Press Statements

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is extremely concerned by conditions within KwaZulu-Natal’s public hospitals as the second wave of Covid-19 continues to ravage the province.

The situation was highlighted earlier this week by a video, which went viral on social media, showing conditions at Wentworth Hospital. The clip showed a patient short of breath and pleading for assistance while other patients slept on the floor and in chairs, with no sign of social distancing as per patient regulations. Worst of all, during the entire two-minute long video, not one healthcare worker responded to the patient’s pleas for help.

The DA is saddened to learn from her family that the patient concerned, Mrs Rowena Hawkey passed away the same day that the video was filmed. We extend our deepest condolences to her family and wish them strength during this difficult time. This inhumane incident is sadly reminiscent of the death of Mr Sibusiso Khumalo of Northdale Hospital last year. While KZN Health MEC, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu did intervene over problems at that hospital, it was too late for Mr Khumalo. A similar situation also occurred at Wentworth Hospital.

It is critical that KZN’s Health Department put preventative checks in place to ensure that patients’ care rights are not violated. Recent initial feedback received by the province’s Health Portfolio Committee, with regard to Wentworth Hospital, indicates an influx of patients and a bed shortage at the hospital’s emergency unit. Feedback has also indicated massive staff shortages at the facility.

The night of the video being taken, there were only six nurses taking care of a 28-bed emergency room and additional short-stay ward. This as a result of 11 doctors and 17 nurses being in Covid-19 isolation. Despite their absence, their posts remained unfilled, creating even more pressure on remaining staff, increasing their workloads and their psychological and emotional stress levels.

Last week, KZN Health MEC, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu put out an urgent request for additional medical personnel to assist the Department at KZN’s hospitals and clinics, particularly when staff have to go into isolation. I took up the MEC’s call and offered my help at a KZN health facility. Ten days later and I am still waiting for my placement.

It is difficult to understand the delay given the crisis our healthcare workers are facing every day. According to a departmental official I had contact with, the DoH has no Human Resources policy for health workers to assist the Department. This is incredibly concerning and contrary to the MEC’s call for assistance. I have raised these issue directly with her.

The DA sincerely hopes that the Department is not playing politics during a time of unprecedented disaster. While we may come from different political parties, the protection of the lives of all KZN’s patients and healthcare workers must come first. I therefore plead with MEC Simelane-Zulu to immediately intervene and to smooth out the process so that any healthcare worker wanting to assist can be placed by her Department without delay.