Covid-19: Hospitals turn away patients


Sindiso Mhlophe




HOSPITALS are turning away patients as some have been forced to partially close owing to the increasing cases of the coronavirus (Covid-19), the Daily News reports.

This comes as more than 323 health workers, including nurses, have contracted Covid-19 since the beginning of the outbreak in March as local infections continue to rise.

It also comes at a time when nurses are on strike, demanding that their salaries be paid in United States (US) dollars, while both senior and junior doctors have given two-week strike notices to the government over poor remuneration and unavailability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA) secretary-general Aaron Musara confirmed that patients were being turned away from the country’s hospitals owing to the unavailability of staff.

“Patients are being turned away because there are no nurses in the hospitals. Only emergency cases are being attended to.

“As more and more people get sick from other ailments unrelated to Covid-19, it is becoming more difficult for hospitals to cope and admit these patients because there is no adequate staff to take care of them.

“As doctors, we cannot admit patients that are not classified as emergencies because they will be stuck in wards without any clinical care from nurses who are currently on strike.

“We have had patients who have been admitted in the past and have spent hours in the wards without anyone attending to them, forcing them to leave the hospital in some instances,” Musara said.

He added that the solution was for the government to solve the grievances of the nurses and doctors.

“The government has to solve the challenges that are being faced by healthcare workers.

“As doctors, we are only working until our two-week notice to the government is up and after that we will no longer be able to offer our services.

“The major grievances that we have are poor remuneration and inadequate provision of PPE.

“It is very clear that the economy has re-dollarised and it is, therefore, important for the government to pay us using a currency which does not continuously lose value.

“If all these issues are addressed, nurses and doctors will be able to return to work and the situation where patients are turned away will be avoided,” Musara said.

This comes at a time when the country’s confirmed Covid-19 cases have reached 2 704, according to Health ministry figures released on Monday.

Recently, the Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals announced the temporary closure of its casualty unit for Covid-19 fumigation, adding that after the process, only emergency cases would be admitted.

Similarly, the Avenues Clinic announced that its casualty department was closed for disinfection as there were individuals exposed to Covid-19.

Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said turning away patients was a violation of the right to medical care as provided for in the Constitution.

“We continue to note the difficulties being faced by citizens in accessing health services, including access to emergency maternity services. ZADHR has verified reports of citizens who are being turned away from hospitals because they do not have Covid-19 test results.

“This is a clear violation of section 76 (3) of the Zimbabwean Constitution which states that no person may be refused emergency medical treatment in any health institution.

“While we note the requirement to protect fellow health workers, we advise that public health institutions should have testing facilities readily available for emergency cases such that patients are not turned away and told to get tested in private institutions.

“In addition, public health institutions should make sure that health workers attending emergency cases have proper PPE to protect themselves and that adequate infection control guidelines are strictly adhered to,” ZADHR said.

The ZADHR further called on the government to address the issue of striking nurses and threats of strikes by both junior and senior doctors, saying that this was adding to the unavailability of health care workers in hospitals.

Deputy Health minister John Mangwiro said he would investigate where patients were being turned away as such conduct “is not government policy”.

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