Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane welcomed 70 SA National Defence Force nurses at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane on Monday in the hope their expertise could help bring down the number of Covid-19 cases in Buffalo City Metro.
The members of the army’s health services will be in the metro for the next week.
Mabuyane acknowledged that despite the national lockdown, many people in the province had simply ignored it.
He said funeral attendances, an influx of people from other provinces, especially the Western Cape, and gatherings on social grant payment days had all contributed to making the Eastern Cape a Covid-19 hot zone.
Mabuyane did a walkabout of Cecilia Makiwane Hospital on Monday, telling nurses “we need you more than you need us”.
DispatchLIVE reported on Saturday that nurses were complaining of hellish conditions at the hospital, and many had contracted the virus as a result. They said there were too few health workers to look after patients in ICU, and the hospital was not deep-cleaned “as much as it should be”.
Judy Ngoloyi, spokesperson for provincial health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, had told DispatchLIVE that there were 165 nurses who had tested positive for Covid-19 at Cecilia Makiwane, and about 66 had since recovered.
Ngoloyi told DispatchLIVE 271 nurses had died in hospitals around BCM, including Cecilia Makiwane, due to Covid-19-related complications.
However, a local doctor told DispatchLIVE this number was incorrect.
Ngoloyi initially told DispatchLIVE that 2,085 nurses in the province had died from Covid-19. This figure did not make sense because at the time of writing last week there were 726 fatalities attributed to Covid-19 related illnesses in the entire province.
It was at this point that Ngoloyi confirmed 271 as the number of nurses who had died from the virus.
Dr David Stead, head of the division of infectious diseases at Cecilia Makiwane, told DispatchLIVE on Monday that damning allegations made by two nurses were “far from the truth”.
“Most of the staff are working with dedication and personal sacrifice for the good of patients,” Stead said.
“I’m very sorry for what was expressed by the nurse. She was obviously under great distress and sadly there have been staff deaths at CMH because of Covid-19, which is extremely distressing.”
Stead said the “situation on the ground is bit more hopeful” following the return of healthcare workers from quarantine.
Stead could not provide DispatchLIVE with the correct figures of how many nurses had died from Covid-19 related complications at Cecilia Makiwane.
“I understand that you were given the wrong figures by the department, but we can’t release those numbers. It’s only the department that can give you the numbers,” he said.
“We’ve had large numbers of staff in all categories infected, but many of them are recovering and coming back to work now. Initially we’ve had wards and units closing for various periods of time because staff were sick or on strike. Fortunately there’s been a change of attitude from the staff, which has been really encouraging.
“As a facility we are just hoping to keep ahead of the increased demand and we’re concerned that the numbers are still expected to go up significantly. We are trying to get oxygen in all the wards so that we can expand as the numbers keep going up. If you are having any signs of severity, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, dizziness, please seek healthcare because there is help available. Hospitals aren’t collapsing in our district, and Covid-19 is not a death sentence.”
He said they wanted to remove bureaucratic backlogs and bottlenecks so as to respond promptly to issues like personal protective equipment needs and emergency medical services.
“The CEO has taken me around the hospital. We have about 500 beds in the new hospital and 300 in the old hospital. We are working and responding to the issues and we are attending to our people. The fact that we are more than 70% recoveries tells you that work is being done. We are inspired by that, despite the surge,” he said.
Brig-Gen Mayenzeke Matanda, the commander of the military personnel, said: “We worked very productively in Port Elizabeth. We will give our best and make sure that whatever is expected of us will be provided to the country.”
Attempts to get comment and correct figures on the record from Ngoloyi were unsuccessful on Monday.
She referred all questions to provincial health head of communications Siyanda Manana, whose phone went straight to voicemail on Monday. DispatchLIVE also called Gomba’s cellphone, which also went unanswered.