A social media post showing an overcrowded maternity ward at Tembisa Hospital in Ekurhuleni sparked outcry over the underresourced care that pregnant women receive and the overwhelming working conditions that midwives and nurses at Gauteng hospitals find themselves in.
The hospital has conceded to being faced with overcrowding, saying it had raised the issue with the provincial department.
It added that the situation was “beyond the hospital’s efforts and now had to be handled at national level”.
On Thursday afternoon, the hospital moved to clarify some of the staffing and ratio figures shared on the initial post.
On Wednesday, Sthandwa Mdlalose, a nurse with the Gauteng department of health, posted on her Facebook page pictures depicting an overcrowded room of pregnant women in their bathrobes and hospital robes sharing benches while others lay in hospital beds.
“This is not a joke anymore. In ward 13 today we have 96 pregnant patients, which means we are caring for 192 souls in a ward that was supposed to occupy 51 patients. That means we have more than 40 patients on the bench. They will sleep there regardless of their conditions, with two right now on the floor,” she wrote.
The post garnered close to 1 000 shares and more than 1 000 comments from people commiserating with nurses on the highly pressured and overwhelming conditions they routinely find themselves working under, with limited staff and resources to help the large number of patients coming through their doors.
The post was picked up by the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union, which stated on its social media pages that: “The sad part is that if any of these women die or lose their babies, nurses will be used as scapegoats. We called the matron in charge, she couldn’t be bothered despite nurses reporting to her. We called the clinical manager on call. The doctor was clueless about the status of the hospital and no measures were in place to remedy the situation. It is sad when you go to work to assist a system designed to kill black lives. #DiariesOfAMadNurse #TembisaHospital.”
Rock and a hard place
Speaking to City Press on Thursday afternoon, the hospital’s spokesperson, Nothando Mdluli, insisted that they had 80 pregnant women admitted to the ward on Wednesday, with seven staff members on duty.
“We had planned to have four registered nurses, but one fell sick so we had three. We also had three enrolled nurses and one operational manager. But yes, the 80 patients reflect an issue of overcrowding and we have been communicating that issue. We are the only hospital in north Ekurhuleni as there is no other regional or district hospital in our cluster. We really cannot turn people away. We serve a community of 1.2 million people. We have a capacity of 51 beds in that ward, but we can’t turn pregnant women away because anything can happen, so we find ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place,” she said.
When asked about why the hospital didn’t refer patients to other hospitals nearby, she said the other hospitals in their cluster – Steve Biko Academic Hospital and Kalafong Hospital – were both in Pretoria and many patients did not want to be taken that far away from their homes.
She said the hospital sympathised with the frustrated and overwhelmed nurses.
“When nurses are trained, they are trained to care. It does take a toll on them seeing all these patients not being given care because of issues beyond [their] control. We are having talks with the provincial office to see what can be done in the interim in terms of an intervention to the overcrowding.”