News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Saturday February 24th 2018

Nurses at risk of violence

Nurses working across South African health state facilities are increasingly being attacked by patients, their relatives or members of the community who are frustrated at unacceptably long waiting periods or perceived shoddy treatment. Although there are no statistics to indicate how rife such attacks are, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) say a shortage of nurses, leading to long waiting periods for treatment at state healthcare facilities, has led to nurses on duty being at the receiving end of both verbal and physical abuse.

According to information provided to Parliament in June by health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the shortage of nurses in South Africa is approaching 40,000.

Denosa spokesperson Asanda Fongqo said the union received “a number of informal complaints” from nurses across the country who said they no longer felt safe at work. While most attacks were in the form of verbal abuse, they sometimes spilled over to physical violence.

Fongqo said earlier this year a nurse at a Mpumulanga clinic was injured after being attacked by a patient’s relative after she refused to treat the patient before others in the queue. He said bedridden patients in state hospitals often accused nurses of keeping them against their will, swearing and hitting out at them.

He said that this was particularly experienced by nurses treating Multi-Drug Resistant tuberculosis patients who had to enduring long periods of isolation. “Nurses are threatened by these patients who say that they are going to spit on them.”

He said health care in South Africa was “in a crisis” and nurses worried about their safety often sought work in the private sector or in other countries, exacerbating the problem.

Denosa Western Cape secretary Bongani Lose said the union regularly received reports of nurses being verbally abused, but statistics were lacking because they failed to report incidents immediately, or did not have the time to do so.

Lose said violence and gangsterism also affected healthcare workers as it was not uncommon for a criminal to come to the hospital seeking to “finish off” a victim they had wounded. This meant not only were healthcare workers lives at risk, but also patients at the facilities.

Despite government’s awareness regarding this matter they were not putting sufficient preventative measures in place, he said. Other Denosa managers across the country noted similar problems, mentioning that nurses had been hijacked, assaulted, held at gun and knife point while at work.

Matron Gerena Conradie at the provincially aided Booth Memorial Hospital said the level of verbal abuse was “unbelievable”. Conradie said patients became “rude and unreasonable” if they felt they were being ignored.

“They try to manipulate the staff by demanding and playing up when nurses are seeing to another patient.”

Last week newly appointed Western Cape MEC for health Marius Fransman said healthcare facilities were often prone to break-ins and vandalism. Fransman said the department wanted the community to help prevent such occurrences and said he would even approach gangsters to request they respect these facilities as a gangster recently attacked a patient at the Mitchell’s Plain day hospital.

Questions sent to the national and provincial health departments remained unanswered.

* Reporting by Yugendree Naidoo. Published in the Cape Argus, 12 September 2008.

Tags: health nursing hospitals

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