A profession in need of a cure

Chronic staff shortages, bad working conditions, inadequate training, lack of professional ethics — no one is in any doubt that matters are critical in the nursing profession.

The current estimate of the staff shortage in the public health sector is around 40 000 vacancies. Private hospitals fare better, but things are not rosy.

What is being done to improve conditions in hospitals to help nurses render a more professional service? After all, nursing is a profession. Yet many witnesses can attest to a general apathy and, in some cases, a total lack of professionalism.

Mpumalanga’s health and social development MEC, Dikeledi Mahlangu, spent her Easter weekend visiting hospitals around the province posing as a patient. She discovered that nurses, porters and others do not meet professional standards and the state of healthcare provision is in dire need of an overhaul.

Tshwane District Hospital, visited by the Mail & Guardian in March, echoed this general don’t-care attitude. Nurses were rude and unhelpful, bleeding patients were left unattended, their blood dripping on the floor. In general any answer directed at staff was rudely answered often with a shoulder shrug.

Nurses work long hours. This has always been the case. But in conditions that leave a lot to be desired, such as not having the correct equipment (or not being able to use clean equipment), these long hours take an extra toll.

And when too many patients line up for too few beds, the challenges can seem insurmountable.
Then, of course, the wage issue becomes more important as nurses feel that facing these challenging conditions should be better rewarded.

According to the department of health, 27 priority hospitals were identified as needing help in particular areas to develop improvement plans.

The department provided support to these hospitals to help them turn bad conditions around in the short term. The results of these actions are yet to be seen.

Nurses who have had their fill of local conditions can work anywhere in the world. Some nurses spend a few months working in the United Kingdom and then return to South Africa to rest before going back to work overseas.

KwaZulu-Natal heal th MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo said recently that there is a global crisis in the health workforce caused by the ‘poaching” of health workers by developed countries. He said that health professionals play a critical role in improving access to quality healthcare for the majority of people, who depend on public healthcare.

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) spokesperson Asanda Fongqo said that the latest figures show a decline in the number of nurses leaving to work overseas.

‘We cannot become complacent, though,” he said. ‘We need a sustainable solution to our problems, of which the staff shortages, which lead to unmanageable workloads, with a lack of resources and poor remuneration, are key.”

Fongqo called for the reopening of nursing colleges that were closed. ‘We need more nurses than the system is training into the workforce.” He said that Denosa is taking very seriously the latest reports of the deterioration of professionalism in the nursing sector.

‘Professionalism is one of the most important components of nursing and our executive has decided to call for research to determine the factors playing a role in this regard and devise sustainable answers to this problem.”

Denosa is also in the process of reestablishing the Denosa Professional Institute to train and retrain nurses in this area. It is a programme being rolled out countrywide.

Addressing problems
From the government, the South African Nursing Council and the Health Professions Council to the private hospital sector, attention is being paid to the existing problems. Of these, low remuneration and poor working conditions top the list.

But issues associated with the nursing workforce are dynamic and complex because multiple stakeholders are involved. Each of them support the overall objectives, but the roads to the eventual outcome are varied.

State of training
The nursing profession is under siege by many fraudulent characters. Adjunct to this is the proliferation of illegal nursing training institutions giving training that is not recognised by the Nursing Act (1978) or the South African Qualifications Authority Act (1995), the two legislative pieces governing the nursing profession.

The South African Nursing Council warns that both nurses and employers should verify the status of the institution(s) providing training by checking with the council. Both the institution and the individual courses should be approved — sometimes the institution is approved but the courses offered are not.

In January there were 394 active approved nursing education institutions providing a total of 1 285 approved programmes.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Not a sweet deal, Mister

Mister Sweet workers say they will not risk their health, and the lives of others, to continue producing and packaging confectionaries

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Nehawu launches urgent court bid over protective gear for health...

The health workers’ union says the government has rebuffed its attempts to meet about mitigating risks to workers

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world