Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, has welcomed a fact-finding report by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), which details the daily challenges health workers face in the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.
Released on Tuesday, the report identified an overall lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), staff shortages and a lack of compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act as some of the challenges in the public healthcare system.
In response to the report, the Minister called for reference to specific provinces, districts and facilities, to ensure that the identified shortfalls can be addressed immediately.
“The constant reporting of incidents of non-compliance will assist us in protecting our frontline workers.
“We also continue with our drive to recruit new health workers, especially in light of field hospitals, which will stretch the current workforce. This recruitment is being done on an urgent basis during this pandemic period,” said Mkhize.
This follows other reports that some health facilities are still not complying with health protocols.
To address the lack of compliance, at the beginning of July, the Minister requested that a labour workstream be formed by the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), which will work on a fact-finding exercise, focusing on issues affecting health workers, with a specific focus on the PPE requirements.
The Minister further requested that the labour workstream identify specific facilities that have shortages, so that the Department of Health can immediately intervene in those facilities.
“This exercise is ongoing and the Minister will now not only rely on reports from the provincial Departments of Health to understand the situation on the ground. This will now be augmented and the department will benefit from the work done by the labour workstream of the multi-sectoral MAC to timeously respond to concerns raised,” said the Minister.
The Health Department reiterated its commitment that no health worker should be exposed to a work environment where they have not been provided with sufficient PPE.
“We will continue to provide as much support as we can in various areas affecting our health workers. We continue to take seriously all concerns raised by health workers,” said the Minister.
He encouraged unions to continue to engage in all structures and platforms to raise issues, and bring them to the department’s attention.
He also thanked frontline workers for their hard work and dedication.
“I salute all the men and women who serve our nation in the health sector. I thank them for their dedication and hard work in caring for our nation in the fight against this invisible enemy. We bow our heads as we pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in this fight and convey condolences to their loved ones.
"I salute all our heroes: the doctors, nurses, radiographers, physiotherapists, pharmacists, laboratory workers, therapists, technologists, technicians, emergency care officers, drivers, porters, care workers, general workers and all health worker categories for your commitment to serving our people. It is because of your hard work that South Africa will triumph over the pandemic.”