Patients being turned away at the casualty unit, rubbish piling up in the passages and staff on a go-slow.
This was the situation at Livingstone Hospital on Friday as tensions lasting several weeks between unions and hospital management over the non-payment of overtime to non-clinical staff began to boil over.
A nurse who works at the hospital, and who asked not to be named, said nursing staff had now resorted to cleaning, washing dishes and serving up for patients on their own.
“Our general assistants are refusing to work.
“They come to work every morning, clock in and don’t do their work.
“We have no clean linen, patients are sleeping on bare mattresses, and we’ve even had to sweep, clean and dish up food for patients ourselves.
“As a result, the patients are also chipping in and are assisting in cleaning the ward themselves.
“Now tell me, how are patients meant to heal and get better when the conditions don’t encourage healing?” the nurse asked.
She added that on Thursday afternoon, kitchen staff had prepared food but had not dished up or alerted the nurses when they had finished cooking.
“Our patients eat at about 4pm but on Thursday they ate at about 5.30pm because we weren’t told when cooks had finished preparing food.
“We were running around the hospital looking for them so we could get the keys to the kitchen and be able to dish up for our patients,” the nurse said.
Meanwhile, a worried Booysen Park woman who had taken her brother to Livingstone as he was suffering from shortness of breath said she had been turned away and told to go to Dora Nginza Hospital instead.
“My brother could die at any minute because he’s struggling to breathe,” the woman, who did not want to be named, said.
“When we arrived at Dora there was only one doctor, who said he wouldn’t be able to help us.
“At Dora Nginza there were patients lying on the floor.
“As I’m speaking to you we’re at a private doctor and we don’t know if my brother has Covid-19, as shortness of breath is one of the symptoms,” the woman said.
On Friday the corridors at Livingstone were filled with uncollected waste and dirty linen, and some beds had blood stains on them.
An employee who works in the hospital kitchen said they were understaffed, but had been told to carry on working with the assurance they would receive overtime.
“We haven’t been paid overtime since March. This is a problem.
“One of our other complaints is that colleagues test positive [for coronavirus], but we’re not tested as the hospital hides this from us.
“The hospital is not properly decontaminated and when we raise these issues internally we’re called lazy,” the employee said.
A porter said they had repeatedly raised the issue of not being properly fitted with personal protective equipment when moving bodies.
“This is us now folding our arms and waiting on management to see what they say.
“We’re being taken for a ride,’ the porter said.
National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) general secretary Zola Saphetha visited Livingstone Hospital on Friday along with provincial secretary Miki Jaceni.
Saphetha said the visit formed part the union’s national programme to monitor the application of World Health Organisation recommendations as well as Covid-19 measures put in place by the government.
“We had invited the Eastern Cape health MEC and the superintendent general to hear how far they are in responding to the issues raised by workers and also their own response to the pandemic,” he said.
Saphetha said the government was not raising the fact that the virus was moving at its own pace.
“Currently we’re lagging. The real battle is no longer about screening and testing.
“The real battle is about the people who have tested positive and are in hospitals.
“We need to handle and confront this disease where it is,” he said.
Saphetha said that during a meeting with health minister Zweli Mkhize in April, it had been resolved that no staff members should be intimidated or threatened with disciplinary action should they speak out about issues being confronted at hospitals and clinics.
“Once this is over, we shall address some of those issues and if need be we’ll fight it in court, because our members are being [exposed] to death,” he said.