EC hospital without hostesses sees management deliver food to patients in the wards

     Management and senior nurses at Cecilia Makhiwane tertiary hospital in Mdantsane, outside of East London have been rolling up their sleeves and serving food to patients since last Friday. 

    According to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU), the hospital hasn’t had food servers for the past two years, with cleaners taking food to the patients. 

    “In 2017-2022 there were about 20 hostesses [food servers] who used to fetch food from the kitchen and take it to the patients. However, their contract was terminated unceremoniously. Cleaners were then tasked with the responsibility of taking food to the patients which added more work for them,” Mandla Peter, NEHAWU regional secretary, explains. 

    In a telephone interview with Health-e News, Peter says the cleaners, who are members of the union, decided on Friday 7 June to stop serving food to patients. They’ve been picketing outside the hospital during their lunch time every day since. 

    “Cleaners had to serve food to patients, collect the dirty dishes from the wards and wash them then clean the wards. Last week we had 28 of our members taking sick leave because they are overworked. There is also a patient who complained after seeing a cleaner, cleaning the toilets and an hour later she was delivering the patient’s food,” he says. 

    He says a few cleaners who didn’t join the picket saw management and senior nurses delivering food to patients. 

    This is the supper patients were served on Monday.(supplied)

    A patient who was admitted at the hospital last week tells Health-e News that they did not get breakfast on Friday. 

    “We only had lunch and supper which was served by the hospital management. We don’t know what will happen to us as the food comes in takeaway boxes instead of proper plates. On Monday morning we only had porridge for breakfast and usually it is followed by two slices of bread.  For supper we had rice, tinned fish and carrot,” she says. 

    She says some patients are coming from outside East London and they dont have people to bring them food. Cecilia Makiwane, along with Frere hospital, is part of the East London Hospital Complex which serves a population of 267,000 people.  

    “It is better when you have relatives staying around who can bring you food,” she says. 

    Cleaners overworked

    Peter says cleaners are tired of being sent from pillar to post. 

    “There have been promises to advertise posts and hire more people and that has not happened. Instead when the cleaners ask they are told about the recruitment process which is taking longer. For instance there is no one to attend to the laundry during the weekends. Instead the management introduced shifts and our members are used to working from Monday to Friday from 8-5. They are not willing to work shifts and the management is threatening them with a disciplinary hearing,” he says. 

    He says the workers have engaged with management with no luck. 

    “We will go on a full blown strike if this is not stopped. The management has no right to threaten our members who are clearly doing the job they were hired for. The cleaners should concentrate on their cleaning jobs and stop acting as food servers. It is time for the hospital to hire food servers and stop harassing our members,” he says.

    A media enquiry was sent to the Eastern Cape Health department on Tuesday morning. It will be added as soon as it has been received. – Health-e News  

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