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06 March 2017


The Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) is slamming the lacking implementation of safety measures after a patient died in the Port Elizabeth-based Livingstone Hospital yesterday.  The Union calls upon the Chief Inspector of the Department of Labour (DoL) to address the dismal findings in their audits of public health facilities, where the national average compliance rate is reported to stand at a mere 26%.


In the early hours of Sunday morning a psychiatric patient who suffered from schizophrenia committed suicide in one of the toilets.  He apparently hung himself.  This happened only hours after Hospersa and sister unions at the institution demonstrated to convey their fears around the safety of patients and staff.  The concerns centre on the fact that Livingstone Hospital does not have a psychiatric ward, and this means that psychiatric patients are kept along with general ward patients.


“It is totally unacceptable that the Department [of Health] can think to care for psychiatric patients in general wards,” said Hospersa’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) spokesperson, Fazeela Fayers.  “Psychiatric patients require specialised care with special focus on protecting their safety and those who care for them.  This is made even worse when they are kept in general wards, because then other patients’ safety is also being compromised,” she said.


According to reports from the Hospersa Eastern Cape leadership team this is not the first event indicating the safety failures at Livingstone Hospital.  Just last week on 1 March 2017 a nurse was physically attacked by a psychiatric patient.  She had to be rescued by fellow staff members and was admitted to sick bay.  In 2015 a psychiatric patient set himself alight in the ward and ultimately burn to death.  Patients have also jumped to their death from the fifth floor of the hospital.  The number of incidents in similar scenarios of this nature escalated to a number of twenty.  These patients pose a danger to themselves, fellow patients and employees, especially in light of the nurses having received absolutely no psychiatric training.


Psychiatric patients are mostly brought to Livingstone by South African Police Services (SAPS) members, and then left with nurses for treatment until they can be placed at institutions with psychiatric facilities.  Hospersa has had several engagements with hospital management but, while certain undertakings were made, the results have been absent while the situation escalates. 


This led Hospersa and sister unions staging a sit-in on Wednesday (1 March 2017), handing over a memorandum to management demanding that the Superintendent General of Eastern Cape Health visits Livingstone Hospital so that urgent solutions can be found.  This was followed by a picket on Friday (3 March 2017) in order to gain public support.  The media was in attendance and interviewed the combined spokesperson of the three unions organising at the hospital.


“Hospersa cannot stand for this kind of total disregard for health and safety legislation,” said Fayers.  “Even worse, this disregard is displayed by public sector institutions who should be leading by example.  We will, just like in the case of last week’s structural collapse at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital [in Johannesburg], write another letter of complaint to the Chief Inspector [of the Department of Labour].  We will request him to inspect the OHS shortcomings in the public hospitals in the [Eastern Cape] province, just like we did for Gauteng,” she warned.


The Department of Labour undertook an OHS audit recently, and Gauteng reported scored a shocking nine percent compliance.  While the figure for the Eastern Cape is not known, the country average is reported to be around 26% compliance.  Hospersa last week approached the Chief Inspector, Tibor Szana requesting a meeting to discuss the report and the shortcomings identified.


“We look forward to taking hands with the Chief Inspector to assist with OHS compliance at our public health institutions,” said Fayers.  “Hospersa has a duty to protect its members by providing safe and healthy working conditions, but we also have a broader social justice mandate to provide safe and healthy basic services to the people of our country,” Fayers concluded.



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For interviews please contact Hospersa OHS spokesperson Fazeela Fayers on 082-654-1368.


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