PRETORIA – The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) National Student Movement strongly rejects the directive by National Department of Health sent to provincial departments for the release of 3rd and 4th year student nurses to work at COVID-19 vaccination sites as vaccinators on weekends as means to scale up the national response strategy to achieve herd immunity, because students don’t enjoy any form of protection in the form of PPE, medical cover, vaccination, indemnity cover and or any support with transportation to their clinical areas.
Also, student nurses are not workers and they must not be made circumstantial workers now at the convenience of this very short-sighted government.
On 06 July 2021, the Director-General of health in the Republic of South Africa gave this directive to provincial departments and Nursing Education Institutions (NEIs). This was followed by placement of student nurses in vaccination sites in various provinces. Student representative councils and students in certain institutions have refused to work in these sites, and DENOSA Student Movement fully supports them in this regard. This refusal was followed by a series of events of trying to blackmail students. DENOSA Student Movement provincial structures in some provinces have written to the relevant offices rejecting this directive.
DENOSA Student Movement calls on the DG to wear his glasses so he could see that student nurses were removed from the PERSAL system as a funding model and don’t enjoy medical cover. Furthermore, majority of them were left out from the 1st phase of the vaccination rollout. Also, they were never given any PPE by the government as no one is sure of who is responsible for students. Under the PERSAL system they enjoyed these protection benefits, including transportation to and from clinical settings, because they were partly regarded as workers due to the nature of their practical’s. Now that the students are under a bursary system, which has reduced the packs, this means student nurses as purely students and the Department must sleep on the bed that it has made itself.
It is surprising that, suddenly, student nurses are now considered as “health workers”. It also supports long-held view that student nurses are made support staff and cheap labour of the department of health. Interestingly, we are not identified as health workers when we demand indemnity, medical aid subsidy, safety in the workplace, and the return of the PERSAL system which will restore our practice pride.
Institutions of higher learning close on weekends and public holidays and there is no clinical accompaniment on those days. Therefore, there is no skill that is taught on weekends. Students already have an extended academic programme due to the pandemic and any deviation from the primary objectives and disruption of learning will only delay them further. The notion that hours worked at vaccination sites will count for work integrated learning (WIL) is farfetched.
We want to urge some of the provincial nursing practice directors, nursing education directors, chief nursing officers, and university deans/representatives to stick to their responsibility of protecting the profession and to stop becoming pawns and radicals of this continuous desperate exploitation of students by the department of health. This includes correcting government when it is ill-advised. In the end, none of these officials will accept any responsibility should the students be in any danger at the vaccination site. They will be the first to cover-up anything that might trace back to them.
ON FAILURE TO PROVIDE PPE TO STUDENTS
Government fails to provide PPE to students while practicing. We cannot trust them with protecting us in vaccination sites. Student nurses struggle to transport themselves to practical sites where they assist this health care system daily and no on intervenes in that. Student nurses can’t afford to arrive in those vaccination sites without any form of remuneration to afford transport. There are student nurses who sleep on an empty stomach to save money to cover clinical hours and would spend the whole day exposed to all kinds of infections and no one is considering their call for a working and effective funding model of nursing education. This is the same department of health that refuses to provide learning gadgets and data or even assemble a simple computer lab for effective learning during these trying times.
ON THREATS TO BLACKMAIL STUDENTS
We condemn any attempts of blackmailing students if they refuse to participate in this programme by first denying them their monthly allowances and delaying their community service, including absorbing them into the system. The department must know that it is not doing student nurses a favour with the above mentioned; it is its duty to ensure that the health care system has well-trained staff and does not take advantage of students.
DENOSA Student Movement recognizes that we all need each other in dealing with the pandemic. It is important, however, for the department of health to recognise that we also need each other when dealing with the daily struggles of nursing students.
Instead of using this opportunity to employ the unemployed, the government is using COVID-19 as an opportunity to complete its agenda of casualization of the nursing profession with the so-called six-months COVID contracts instead of fully employing the very same student nurses post- completion.
We say Yes to successfully completing the academic year, and No to any act of deliberately disrupting the academic year. The South African Nursing Council (SANC) needs to come through for all of us and clarify this matter to their coffee buddies in the department of health.
After all, student nurses are no government’s weekend special.