The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) held a two-hour virtual national day of prayer for nurses on the front line in the battle against Covid-19.
More than 27 000 healthcare workers have been infected by the virus in the line of duty in South Africa alone, while many have succumbed already said the trade union.
Deputy President of the International Council of Nurses (ICA) Thembeka Gwagwa said as early as June, the ICN had recorded more than 600 nurses who died of Covid-19
“The ICN is calling for the public to support nurses. Stopping the spread of Covid is in the hands of the public and not only the nurses,” she said.
Gwagwa also appealed to the National Nurses Association (NNA) to collect data of the nurses who died of Covid.
“Without information coming from you guys at an ICN level, we will not have a real picture of how many nurses have died as a result of this pandemic,” she said.
Gwagwa said the information collected would be critical in order to influence policy going forward
“We don’t know what other pandemics are going to be experienced by the world and remember whether you are in a developing country or in a developed country, Covid-19 has proved that our healthcare systems are really not good for pandemics,” she said.
Head of the Department of Nursing Science at the University of Pretoria (UP), Professor Fhumulani Mulaudzi said 2020 was meant to be the year of the nurse and midwife and while the Covid-19 pandemic was unfortunate it has put a spotlight on the profession.
Mulaudzi said when the pandemic began nurses bore the brunt and were working in very compromising conditions with no protective clothing in some cases.
“They were sacrificing their lives. When they said now it’s lockdown, the nurses sacrificed their lives and those of their families and continued working. They continued to hold the lamp high,” said Mulaudzi.
Fear and uncertainty lead to fatigue, stress, burnout and depression she said.
Mulaudzi said nurses were demoralised by waiting for a salary increase, which they didn’t get and they waited for risk allowance to be addressed among other issues.
“They were sometimes finding themselves having to work with PPE that needed to be washed…”
She said they had meetings to try to talk to the government and leaders “but at times you feel like you are knocking on closed doors and at times you feel like nurses lives really don’t matter.”
CEO and Registrar of the South African Nursing Council (SANC) Sizo Mchunu highlighted a few issues related to the impact of Covid-19 on the nursing profession.
Mchunu said the pandemic has brought to the fore issues of capacity, health crisis preparedness and health crisis management which is not only found in South Africa.
As a result, she said recent studies have found that nurses were losing confidence in themselves
In terms of the capacity of essential resources, Muchunu said that question that needed to be asked is, “do we train what we need?”
We have seen the kinds of categories of nurses and specialisations that we need at this time she said.
“Maybe we need to look at what it is that we need to do so that we are prepared for handling a pandemic in terms of training and having practitioners that are ready for that.
“The insufficient capacity that has been demonstrated of essential resources, has actually led to our nurses being over-utilized, fatigued, burned-out and of course that predisposes them to illness, especially at a time when they’re face to face to stressful conditions.”
Mchunu said that there has also possibly been a misallocation of staff during this time in critical care units, primary health care settings, and in all areas where we are triaging patients.
“I’m referring, probably, ill appropriately qualified nurses that we find in very critical areas where we’re supposed to have specialists, especially at this time,” she said.
The pandemic has also exposed a lack of capability with regard to the country’s support systems for nurses in terms of employee wellness initiatives she said.
Mchunu added that there may be a possible loss of interest by nurses who fear for their lives and possible loss of interest by those who were thinking of entering the profession.