Kids’ heart surgeries on ice after union row

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Doctors are no longer performing heart surgeries for children at Port Elizabeth’s Provincial Hospital as the last anaesthetist available has been moved to Livingstone Hospital for his own safety.
According to numerous hospital sources, Dr Pete Alexandris was moved after a complaint was filed by union members following an angry stand-off over nurses refusing to scrub in for a second surgery on a day.
The stand-off took place early this month and Alexandris was moved on Wednesday this week.
While paediatric surgeries have been halted, there is also still no date available for when the catheterisation laboratory – where non-invasive surgeries are undertaken – will be up and running again.
The catheterisation lab has been broken for six months.
Four hospital sources – who are not being named as they are not permitted to speak to the media – confirmed that about 150 children and toddlers from across the province were affected.
No surgeries were cancelled, but those on the list will not be operated on for now, the sources said.
Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Lwandile Sicwetsha would only say that no surgeries had been cancelled “from theatre”.
“The hospital has senior anaesthetists and doctors who can do surgeries,” he said.
However, sources confirmed that the only senior anaesthesiologist at the hospital, the head of the department of anaesthesiology, Alexandris, was moved to Livingstone Hospital for his own protection after two run-ins with the unions.
It is understood that union members claim Alexandris became aggressive when staff refused – at noon – to prepare the theatre for a second surgery for the day.
This follows an incident where union members allegedly held Alexandris hostage in his office at a time when he needed to get back to the theatre to wake up an 18-year old who had had open heart surgery.
That incident also allegedly happened this month.
The other senior anaesthetist who could assist in paediatric heart surgeries is on sick leave.
Sicwetsha said the issue with Alexandris would not be discussed with the media but was being dealt with through “labour relations”.
Earlier in 2019, a senior labour court judge, Andre van Niekerk, said the Eastern Cape department of health’s response to the demands of labour unions at the hospital was concerning.
“Employment policy appears to have been dictated by the unions,” he said, adding that it seemed the department was being held hostage through a concerted campaign of violence and intimidation conducted by powerhungry union officials.
He said this while adjudicating a case between former Fort England Psychiatric Hospital CEO Dr Roger Walsh and the department of health.
Dr Helen Malherbe from the Genetic Alliance said in the Eastern Cape, based on the Stats SA figure of 104,000 births in 2017, its estimate was that 834 new patients with congenital heart disease would be born every year.
“Of these more than 440 would require life-saving treatment in the first month of life.
“When functioning, the cathlab was able to treat approximately 20 patients per week – which made an imprint in the service provision of the province.
“It is essential that the facility is up and running again as soon as possible to continue to meet the needs of these patients, many of whom are children and the most vulnerable of our society, awaiting urgent treatment for whom no alternative has been offered in the interim six months since October 2018,” she said.
National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union provincial secretary Miki Jaceni said he was unaware of the hostage situation. He could not be reached when telephoned for comment on Alexandris’s move to Livingstone.

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