Intensive care unit nurses at Frere Hospital in East London are refusing to look after more than one patient, saying it constitutes overtime – for which the Eastern Cape health department is not paying them.
The ratio for ICU nurses to patients is supposed to be one-to-one – but because of staff shortages they said a nurse had to look after two patients.
Their trade union, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa), claims plans are afoot for nurses to be forced to look after three ICU patients.
The union has backed the nurses, saying ICU patients needed undivided attention – something that did not happen when a nurse had to look after two or three patients.
The provincial health department acknowledged that the payment of overtime was moving at a snail’s pace.
To address the problem, provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said Frere Hospital management had asked for human resources and payroll employees to work overtime in order for them to pay nurses their overtime.
Denosa provincial secretary Khaya Sodidi said: “The intensive care unit is called that for a reason – because everyone admitted there needs specialised care.”
The unionist said if nurses were forced to care for more than one ICU patient, it would put patients’ lives at risk.
Denosa plans to embark on a provincial campaign to encourage ICU nurses to stick only to their scope of practice of one patient per nurse.
Health portfolio committee chairman Mxolisi Dimaza yesterday said there were many people who were not being paid overtime by the department and it was the cause of a collapse of services.
“The department is paying people they should not be paying. Others are level 13 but they are getting level 15 salaries. That is wastage.
“This is while people who are doing actual work are not being paid,” Dimaza said.