The largest public-service union in the country, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has called for the overhaul of the SA Nursing Council (SANC), saying it has become a stumbling block to the transformation of the nursing profession.

Nehawu’s national nurses’ co-ordinator Nobukhosi Xulu said her colleagues have encountered several challenges when dealing with the council regarding issues such as nursing education, professional development, governance and leadership, and professional statutory fees, among other things.

Nurses are at the coalface of the country’s fight against the coronavirus.

Nehawu, which is a union federation Cosatu affiliate, represents nurses, doctors, pharmacists, cleaners, dispensary and reception clerks; community health workers, ambulance and morgue workers; community care workers and laboratory technicians, among others.

The SANC is an autonomous, financially independent, statutory body entrusted to set and maintain standards of nursing education and practice in SA and was established under the Nursing Act.

“The SANC has, over the years, been a stumbling block to the transformation of the nursing profession and in many instances hindered progress of the profession,” Xulu said in her speech to mark International Nurses Day on Tuesday.

SANC spokesperson Adri van Eeden did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Xulu said the transformation of the sector must be supported through implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) fund and the overhauling of regulatory body SANC itself, among other things.

She said the government should place nurses at the epicentre of efforts to transform the public healthcare system as the country battles the Covid-19 pandemic. She also said the coronavirus outbreak calls for the government to prioritise transforming the sector and to ensure there are enough human resources to provide quality healthcare services.

“Regrettably, SA’s public-health sector suffers from an acute shortage of staff — nurses in particular,” said Xulu. “The collapse of SA’s health system in general is deeply rooted in policy failure/choice. Nehawu is unambiguous about the fact that healthcare should not be made a commodity but a right of all, as enshrined in the constitution.”

Xulu said the coronavirus has presented a “disturbing state of affairs within the global healthcare system”, and that the crisis has been exacerbated by the vulnerabilities of healthcare workers expected to treat and prevent the spread of infection. “These front-line workers, especially the nursing fraternity, are required to perform miracles with limited [personal] protective equipment (PPE), infrastructure and human resources,” she said.

Covid-19 has infected nearly 11,000 and killed 206 in SA. On May 6, health minister Zweli Mkhize announced that 511 health workers had tested positive for Covid-19, 26 of those were hospitalised, while a nurse and a doctor have lost their lives to the virus.

Spending cuts

“The cuts in government spending have led to the freezing of vacant posts, lack of infrastructure development, and poor healthcare services,” said Xulu.

In February, finance minister Tito Mboweni announced a plan to cut baseline spending by R261bn over three years.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that there will be a worldwide shortfall of 9-million nurses and midwives by 2030 “unless radical action is taken”, said Xulu. “Currently, some public healthcare hospitals are operating with a ratio of one nurse for every 18 patients, while the accepted norm in general wards is one nurse for every four patients.”

Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) president Simon Hlungwani criticised the government for not having a “staff retention strategy” in place for the nursing industry, saying the Covid-19 pandemic has become a “serious test” of the profession’s resilience: “The [staff] shortage has become a factor for many healthcare workers to ply their trade overseas where there are staff retention plans in place.”

Also on Tuesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute to nurses, describing them as “invaluable and treasured cadres” of society. “Let us give them our full support and gratitude into the future,” he said, commending their contribution and bravery in the battle in the country and around the world against Covid-19.

Deputy president David Mabuza, who chairs the SA National Aids Council, thanked nurses for their dedication and commitment, saying they played an important role in saving people’s lives.


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