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Patient tied to bench: Don't blame the nurse, says union

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) in Gauteng has defended a nurse who was implicated in a Mamelodi Hospital incident in which a 76-year-old patient was tied to a bench in a waiting area last week, sparking social media outrage. The Citizen reports that the nurse was implicated, along with three doctors and a security guard, and has been issued with a letter of intention to suspend by the Gauteng Health Department, which is conducting an investigation into the incident where Martha Marais was tied to a bench while lying on the floor.

Denosa provincial chair Simphiwe Gada said nurses were being unfairly targeted because they were the face of the healthcare system, and called for the investigation to be moved from the Gauteng Health Department to the health ombudsman. “The investigation into this matter must be done by the Office of the Health Standards Compliance (OHSC), where the health ombudsman is located, because this is the only neutral body that as Denosa Gauteng we have full confidence in,” said Gada.

He said the investigation by Gauteng Health was “already compromised”. “They have already prejudiced the nurse through their actions, like misinforming the public about placing the officials on special leave while that did not happen and, in fact, as we speak there is no special leave given to our member,” he said.

Gada said in the report that the nurse was served with a letter of intent to suspend on Monday of last week and asked to leave the premises with immediate effect. “Because nurses are the face of a healthcare system, it has become a discomforting norm that they are the ones to be blamed, even before investigations are done and concluded on incidents which they are alleged to have caused,” said Gada.

Gauteng Health spokesperson Lesemang Matuka said letters of intention to suspend were issued to three doctors, one nurse and a security guard.

Gada said in the report that as tragic as the incident was, it was important to highlight areas of concern for nurses and other health workers at Mamelodi Hospital because nurses were often targeted. At the time of the incident, said Gada, there were more than 71 patients at casualty in various wards who were looked after by just eight nurses.

“Out of these continuing poor conditions, nurses are still expected to perform to the best of their ability and play their advocacy role. As Denosa, we must say that it has become extremely difficult to fulfil this role under the current circumstances,” he said.


Replying to questions from Chris Barron in the Sunday Times, on Denosa backing the nurse, Gada said:
You can’t go out in public and say you have placed people on special leave when they haven’t been given a chance to present reasons why they should not be given precautionary suspension. Because the reasons submitted on her behalf have not been looked into.

“So how can you say she’s innocent?
She has not been charged. That’s why we’re saying she’s innocent. When something like this happens shouldn’t the person implicated be put on special leave immediately? If they said we want to place you on special leave because of one, two, three, we would not oppose that. She wouldn’t be the first to be placed on special leave.

“What happened at Mamelodi is not a one-off, is it?

“There have been many accounts of nurses abusing patients at this hospital?
There have been many accounts of alleged incidents. We’re still waiting to be shown a nurse that has been found guilty of ill-treating a patient at Mamelodi.

“What are the challenges for nurses there?
You’ve got a huge shortage of beds where patients spend hours in casualty and cannot be transferred to the wards because they’re full. And you’ve got a shortage of staff. On the day of this incident there were eight nurses on duty and more than 70 patients in the casualty area.

“Does that excuse a lack of compassion?
No, it’s no excuse. I’m just highlighting the challenges. And our nurse could not have tied that patient like that. She had only been on duty for an hour.

“Wouldn’t she have received a hand-over report when she came on duty?
Yes, it’s compulsory. And after that you go and count drugs so the outgoing shift can go home. After that there was a resuscitation she had to deal with. It’s not possible a patient can be tied for eight hours under a bench. Not in a hospital setting. Nurses would not allow it.

“According to the family she did.
That’s not conclusive evidence.

“Shouldn’t the nurse have asked when she came on duty why the patient was tied under a bench on the floor?
Let’s allow the investigation to establish the facts, because now we’re speculating and I don’t want to do that at all.

“But you’re saying the nurse didn’t do it and can’t be blamed?
Yes, that’s all that we’re saying.

“So who would you blame?
The challenges at Mamelodi have been there for a long time. What is the government doing about them, what is the hospital’s CEO doing?

“What is the morale of your nurses like?
They feel that despite working under harsh conditions there is no support that is provided when unfortunate incidents happen.

“Why aren’t you protecting them from such conditions?
All we can do is raise these issues. But if we withdrew their labour, hospitals and clinics would close. And we must not deprive people of access to quality health care …”

[link url=""]The Citizen report[/link]
[link url=""]Sunday Times report[/link]

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