Health sector unions are concerned about the increasing rate of infection among health workers in KwaZulu-Natal, where more than 110 medical staff at six private and three public hospitals have tested positive for Covid-19.
Three Netcare hospitals have been affected. St Augustine’s in Durban was closed at the beginning of April when 48 health workers tested positive for Covid-19. A total of 10 staff members at Kingsway in Amanzimtoti have contracted the disease and the hospital has been closed since mid-April. Parkland in Durban was temporarily closed this week.
Health workers have also tested positive at other private hospitals — New Shifa in Durban, Hibiscus in Port Shepstone and Eden Gardens in Pietermaritzburg.
Employees at two state hospitals in Durban, Addington and Albert Luthuli, have also been infected.
Denosa provincial secretary Mandla Shabangu said that cross infection between hospitals had been exacerbated by “sessioning’’ — staff members who work for agencies are sent to different hospitals as the need arises.
“We have had a serious cross infectioning problem in KwaZulu-Natal as staff are placed by agencies in a variety of hospitals which need their skills for sessional as they do not have full time staff in many positions,’’ Shabangu said.
“The danger is that people are called to one hospital and then another by the agencies. The nurses need work so they go. This is how the virus is being spread between hospitals.”
He said the union was meeting weekly with Netcare management to ensure the safety of staff and patients when the hospitals reopen.
Premier Sihle Zikalala and health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu have initiated an investigation into the outbreak at St Augustine’s.
Netcare KwaZulu-Natal regional director Craig Murphy confirmed that Kingsway and St Augustine’s had been closed in April because of Covid-19 infections.
“Netcare has engaged the services of two independent infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists to assist in investigating the outbreak at the [St Augustine’s] hospital. This independent investigation is underway,” Murphy said.
He said the hospitals, which remain closed, had been disinfected and would only reopen when the go-ahead was given by the national and provincial health departments.
Murphy declined to comment on how many staff members at Netcare facilities had been infected or how many of its employees who had tested positive had also worked in state hospitals or clinics during the virus’s incubation period.
He said health workers and patients at the hospitals had been tested and a tracing programme run on all of those who had been exposed.
“We embarked on an extensive programme of contact tracing so as to identify all nurses, doctors, paramedics, support staff and contract service providers,” Murphy said.
Netcare group medical director Dr Anchen Laubscher said the group had already spent R150-million to enhance the readiness of its intensive care unit and high care facilities. She added that Netcare had bought additional ventilators and was using ultraviolet disinfection robots to cleanse its hospitals, in which specialised air filters had been installed, to assist in preventing new infections. The group had spent R300-million on personal protective equipment (PPE) for its more than 20500 staff members, who had been trained in the use of protective gear to ensure their safety.
“No Netcare facility has ever expected a staff member to work without appropriate PPE as that would be contrary to our values,” she said.