Amid growing concern about security at Eastern Cape hospitals and clinics, the provincial Department of Health has admitted that the security guards, provided to them by outside security companies have “inappropriate training” and are not able to respond to violent and armed criminals.
Eastern Cape Department of Health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said they are considering arming security officers with pepper spray and stun guns.
“Our view is that their training is inappropriate and inadequate to respond effectively to violent and armed criminals,” Kupelo said. “We raised this when we met our security partners.”
National Department of Health spokesman Popo Maja said they are not considering changing the rules that make hospitals gun-free zones, thereby preventing security guards from being armed.
“The same policy is in place for most public buildings except for those of law enforcement,” he said.
Kupelo noted, “The Eastern Cape Department of Health is under siege from criminals who have targeted clinics and hospitals this month.”
Criminals hijacked government vehicles at gunpoint in the parking lot of clinics in Libode and Joubertina at the weekend. Kupelo indicated the vehicles, a Nissan bakkie, an Isuzu bakkie and a Toyota Corolla, were later recovered.
There were also two break-ins at clinics in Mthatha and Maclear, but these were interrupted by vigilant security guards and resulted in an arrest.
Kupelo pointed out that on Saturday night the guard on duty at the Sonwabile Clinic in Maclear heard a noise outside and went to investigate. He saw people trying to break into the building but they ran away when they spotted him.
“Tyeks Security guards also prevented a break-in at the Bedford Hospital in Mthatha and apprehended a suspect at the Ngangelizwe clinic.”
Kupelo said in most cases criminal activity at clinics and hospitals was a “spillover” from communities.
“This is an extremely disturbing trend that requires a response from the community because the hospitals and clinics need to remain an open public service that is accessible to patients.
“Our view is that a hospital cannot be militarised and they are gun-free zones.”
Earlier in November, a patient was stabbed to death at the All Saints Hospital in Ngcobo while doctors and nurses were attending to him.
“A knife-wielding man interrupted doctors and nurses who were helping a patient who had been stabbed and said he was there to ‘finish the patient off’. There were 10 guards at the hospital but the man was able to force his way through by threatening them with a knife,” Kupelo recounted.
“The doctor and nurses ran for their lives while the security guards could do nothing to prevent the attacker from stabbing the man to death. The police were called… by the time they arrived, the man with the knife had run away.
“After meeting with unions, the hospital board, the Engcobo Local Municipality, the police and traditional leaders, it was agreed that security measures at the hospital should be improved.”
The day after that incident, a woman who was admitted to the Taylor Bequest Hospital in Matatiele after she had been attacked by her husband was attacked by him again in the hospital parking lot. He later committed suicide.
On the same day, a patient ran into the emergency unit at the Uitenhage Provincial Hospital. He wrestled a gun from a police officer but was tackled by a security guard.
Kupelo said the guard “deserved praise for his bravery”.
The district manager for Emergency Medical Services in Nelson Mandela Bay, Brenhan Metune said in a speech on World Day of Remembrance that there had been a marked increase in the number of attacks on emergency medical services (EMS) staff – both nationally and internationally.
“The recent spate of attacks on EMS staff in Nelson Mandela Bay has forced us to look at the way we operate as practitioners. The effects are far-reaching and it impacts on the very thing we are called to do – to help people in need. It has forced us to look at safety from a different perspective. The root of attacks is socio-economic as we find that [the purpose] of most attacks is to get staff’s cellphones and belongings.”
The province’s ambulances have been fitted with panic buttons and dash cameras. Several hot spots have also been identified and ambulances now wait for a police escort before proceeding there to help patients.
EMS in Nelson Mandela Bay have also started a “hands off EMS” campaign to help raise support within communities for the protection of ambulances.
And the department has put out a tender for trauma counselling for its personnel.
Khaya Sodidi from the Democratic Nurses Union of South Africa (Denosa) in the Eastern Cape said they were very worried about the security situation in clinics and hospitals.
“Actually, it is not only in this province, we are concerned about this situation throughout the country,” he said.
“In some places there is no security, but where there is security it is inadequate, not well-trained to deal with the type of situations that they need to deal with. We have seen a spike in attacks of both staff members and patients.
“People will start a fight outside a health institution and then they will follow one another to the hospitals. The injured patients will then be attacked and killed inside the hospital. That is a result of a lack of security. The attackers come into the hospital with knives or guns. It shows that there is a lack of security at the gate. Often there will be no metal detectors at the gates,” pointed out Sodidi.
Nurses at the Motherwell Clinic in Nelson Mandela Bay went on strike this year after several were assaulted by drunken patients. They complained that the security guards were not trained to deal with drunk people.
Nurses in the metro went on strike again in October this year, demanding that the department deploy security guards in consultation rooms. This followed another spate of attacks on health workers in the metro’s clinics.
“We have been raising this issue since 2016. Nurses have been attacked and raped – some inside the yards of the clinics and hospitals. Our staff are under attack by these heartless thugs,” Sodidi said.
“Even at a hospital you can go into the gate with your car. They don’t search you. Even if you go to the ward nobody checks your back. We had a meeting with the Department of Health and we raised this with them. It was on the top of our agenda. The department [agreed] that the security was weak or non-existent. They promised us an update.
“Health staff are not comfortable to work at hospitals any more. They are very scared. They security guards are also not helpful. They are the first ones to run away.
“We are going to make a national campaign about it, added Sodidi.” –MC