Home PodcastJulie Alli Inadequate support for nurses and overwhelming demands plague public healthcare

Inadequate support for nurses and overwhelming demands plague public healthcare

by Luqmaan Rawat
Public sector nurses are overworked and looking for greener pastures Photo Pexels

South Africa – In the realm of healthcare, the need for proper representation and advocacy has never been more critical. In 2015 the Health and Allied Workers Indaba Trade Union (HAITU) was established to address the grievances of marginalised healthcare workers who have been overlooked by existing trade unions. Although the union was created, nurses continue to be overlooked.

Within the public sector, nurses endure harrowing circumstances characterised by overwhelming workloads, meagre compensation, and a dire lack of resources, explained Lerato Mthunzi, Founder and General Secretary at HAITU. The unfortunate reality of too many patients and too few resources often hinder their ability to provide adequate and compassionate care, leading to misconceptions that they are uncaring.

“The nurses in the public sector are servicing the majority of South Africans. Unfortunately, the number of healthcare workers are servicing, it’s really outstrips the demand. We find our nurses literally not coping, totally burned out, not in the right state of mind … It almost seems like they are offering careless health but that’s not the reality.”


Challenges found by nurses in the public sector

In a general ward, it normally is just two nurses looking after 60 patients. Instead of having one on one patient care, a nurse is expected to handle seven or more cases at a time, said Mthunzi. This extra workload leaves nurses more vulnerable to malpractice lawsuits and can even lead to a patient losing their life because no one is there for them.

“Instead of helping that one woman, you’re actually helping five to seven women at every given chance. The next patient expects you to be smiling but smiling from what? That we’re not able to assist the next patient that could be saved and that patient is dead? There is nothing that puts a smile on the nurses at this present moment … They are overly burdened and they are offering just quantity, not so much quality healthcare.”


Empowering healthcare workers through HAITU

At the heart of HAITU’s mission lies the desire to give a resounding voice to overworked and underpaid healthcare professionals. The unrealistic and inhumane demands placed upon public sector nurses demand urgent attention and remedial action. HAITU, through its advocacy efforts, strives to bring about a transformation in the healthcare sector.

“We are advocating for the training of more healthcare workers. Our government has been exceptionally negligent when it comes to increasing the number of nurses that are trained. A lot of colleges have been closed in the public sector. We are training less and less … Government in that front has totally failed the people of South Africa. They’ve failed healthcare and I don’t think there’s any way that they can actually be redeemed.”

In 2010, almost a thousand nurses were being trained at any given time in one province. Now that number is less than 100. According to Mthunzi, HAITU is doing everything in its power to change the situation of nurses in every aspect. Whether it be training or their working conditions.

“We are holding all the regulatory bodies accountable … We have taken a stand to say we are not going to show any favour, no mercy if people are going to really compromise on both nursing training and practice. We have called out the Nursing Council because as a regulatory body they also play a role of a public protector but they’ve not been proactive in ensuring that our facilities are audited accordingly. Nurses are practising in a safe environment.”

For these reasons and more, many nurses are leaving South Africa for greener pastures. Those who stay are often berated even when working with minimal resources, said Mthunzi. HAITU wants to change the situation. They believe that through enhanced training programs and improved working conditions, public sector nurses will be able to deliver all patients the quality care they deserve.


Lerato Mthunzi explored the depths and misconception of public and private sector nursing with Julie Alli. Listen to that discussion here:

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