Friday, 21 August 2020
Pretoria: Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, has assured health care workers that their safety remains a priority, as they continue to battle the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Minister’s comments come amid a planned picket by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) over their concerns on the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers.
“As a doctor myself, I can never be detached from the experiences, concerns, hopes and aspirations of my colleagues. Our health care workers are the pulse of the COVID-19 response and therefore, it is not only our duty but our imperative to protect our frontline workers at all times. I wish to assure my colleagues of our continued commitment to constantly engage and co-operate to find lasting solutions for a healthy workforce,” said the Minister on Friday.
Allaying the fears of workers, Mkhize asserted that nationally, there is enough PPE stock but acknowledged that the issues pertain to the distribution of stock.
“This is urgently being addressed at provincial level, hence the importance of the involvement of unions to assist with monitoring and reporting impending stock shortage, together with management, so that employers and employees can work together in a cooperative manner to protect health care workers,” said the Minister.
According to the Health Department, the provision of PPE for healthcare workers is monitored by the department through a digital system, whereby provinces report on their stock levels of PPE on a daily basis.
These reports are reflected in real time on a national dashboard. The spreadsheets from these dashboards are extracted for presentation to the Minister, the National Health Council and Technical National Health Council on a regular basis.
In a bid to secure the health, safety and wellbeing of all frontline health care workers, the department set up an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) work stream as part of the Incident Management Team.
The Incident Management team focuses specifically on managing significant outbreaks, in the current case, COVID-19.
The OHS work stream has members from all provinces, trade unions, academic institutions and professional bodies. Working together, these members draft and provide guidelines for health and safety interventions, as well as training of healthcare workers through the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH).
There are OHS coordinators at provincial Departments of Health and OHS committees at provincial, district and facility levels, in line with the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, No. 85 of 1993.
These committees also have trade union representatives and monitor health and safety of healthcare workers at their workplaces.
“Whilst we acknowledge that there may be some challenges in the functionality of these committees in some provinces, the Department of Health continues to place emphasis on the operationalisation of these committees and is working hard to ensure that these committees are in place, and function in accordance with the legislated framework,” said the Health Department.
In April, the Minister requested the involvement of unions in OHS committees at provincial, district and facility levels be strengthened to ensure there is always good flow of information between employees and management at all levels.
Additionally, unions accepted an invitation to be part of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Social Behavioural Change, which is an important and influential platform that provides opportunities to intervene on matters of occupational health.