Cape metro healthcare staff attacked, surgeries delayed as hospitals, clinics ‘bear the brunt’ of taxi strike
The Western Cape taxi strike has dealt a blow to the provincial healthcare system, with staff unable to get to work, surgeries postponed and facilities forced to run at limited capacity.
The taxi strike, which began on Thursday afternoon, and the ensuing violence have severely affected healthcare delivery in the Cape metro, resulting in several facilities operating at reduced capacity on Friday, according to the Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness.
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“Our top priority remains the safety of our staff who continue to bear the brunt of the violence in their commitment to providing healthcare to our citizens. We are deeply thankful to them for their continuous dedication. In the same breath, we condemn the attacks on our staff which occurred yesterday – an Emergency Services staff member was assaulted and the ambulance torched. Several staff members were also attacked, including a medical doctor,” said Dr Saadiq Kariem, the chief of operations.
An assessment of the overall impact of the strike on transport safety and staff had revealed that many staff members were unable to get to work, which has resulted in limited services at health facilities in the metro.
Service implications for the day
The department alerted the public to the following:
Tygerberg, Red Cross and Groote Schuur hospitals
- Elective surgery will be postponed;
- Only emergency surgery will be performed; and
- Outpatients are advised only to attend their appointments if it is safe to do so.
Community health centres and clinics
- Services at all facilities will be available, but with limited capacity.
Emergency Medical Services
- Access to red-zone areas will only be possible with a law enforcement escort, resulting in a possible delayed response.
Forensic Pathology Services
- The Tygerberg and Salt River services are operational, but the response to scenes will be delayed in red zones since this will also only occur under the protection of law enforcement escorts.
Harassment and attacks force the closure of Vanguard Community Health Clinic
Staff at the Vanguard Community Health Clinic in Bonteheuwel were reportedly traumatised after gun-wielding protesters stormed the facility. “Last night the decision was taken to close the hospital, this was due to the hospital being stormed by taxi protesters,” said Angus McKenzie, Bonteheuwel ward councillor.
The incident had occurred after one of the taxi drivers was injured in a scuffle in Langa. “The nearest hospital is Vanguard, so he was brought here and he was treated, then his mates or people who don’t like him or whoever they were, came and bombarded the hospital and made it literally impossible for the hospital to deliver services,” said McKenzie.
Staff were threatened and attacked, he added, and ultimately a decision was taken to close the facility.
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McKenzie continued: “Staff are on-site so we have been able to get staff into the hospital, but they are currently going through counselling and a decision from hospital management will be taken shortly.”
The provincial health department confirmed that the clinic is operational on Friday but with limited capacity.
‘Very volatile situation’
The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) raised the alarm about staff safety, saying the taxi strike will have huge consequences for many healthcare workers.
“The situation is very volatile, and we’re concerned, of course. Many nurses who are obviously essential service personnel in healthcare facilities are not able to go to work because they don’t have transport,” said Denosa spokesperson Sibongiseni Delihlazo. The situation was also volatile and risky for those who had their own transport. “The situation is so volatile, that even cars that are just passing by are being torched and attacked, and this places a serious risk to their lives, especially those who are brave enough to even attempt to go to work.”
The strike is producing more casualties that need medical attention, at a time when there are few nurses in healthcare facilities, Delihlazo added. “Our appeal at this stage is to our members and the employers, both private and public, to please understand how precarious the situation is. The situation is so volatile that the workers would lose their lives.”
Delihlazo said that on Thursday a patient was being transported in an ambulance in Langa when it was attacked by protesters.
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At Khayelitsha District Hospital, a baby who was supposed to be transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital for cooling therapy missed the cooling time because paramedics were unable to reach the facility due to strike action. “Baby still needs to go across for further management of seizures, but paramedics said they are still waiting for [the] strike to come down as four of their cars are damaged already,” said one staff member.
Another patient, who was supposed to be transferred to Tygerberg Hospital, could not be transferred because of the strike. “Essential service workers do not have to stop working simply because of the precarious situation, they are essential for a reason,” he said.
The strike is set to continue until 9 August, and Delihlazo stressed the importance of a contingency plan to ensure the safety of healthcare workers and patients’ ability to receive medical treatment. “The longer this drags on, the more risky we believe it will become, and we’re extremely concerned, especially looking at the essential service that healthcare personnel are providing.”
The health department’s major incident response protocol was activated on Thursday and will continue to receive updates from the Provincial Joint Operations Centre and adjust its service provision appropriately, Kariem said. “We acknowledge that this will have an impact on our clients, but we assure them that we are doing everything we can to ensure that health services continue.” DM