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Cape Town - The case of a patient who ended up sleeping in his car because of a shortage of beds at Helderberg Hospital is not unique to the Western Cape, according to the SA Medical Association (Sama).
Dr Zameer Brey, provincial chairman of Sama, said the 48 hours for which Marius Gerber had to wait before getting a bed after suffering heart problems was “unacceptable”, but was not something out of the ordinary at some provincial hospitals.
Health Department spokeswoman Faiza Steyn said initial screening tests on Gerber had not indicated a heart attack, but he was suspected of having cardiac ischemia - a condition characterised by insufficient blood going through the arteries.
“Since there was a concern that he could have cardiac ischemia, causing chest pain, he was observed and during this period elected not to remain in the waiting area, but in his car,” she said.
Brey, however, has expressed concern at the poor management of beds at some provincial hospitals, which has often led to some patients waiting for up to five days before getting a bed.
He said that according to the international benchmark, emergency patients - including those with heart attacks - should wait only four hours before getting appropriate treatment. In South Africa this is not the case. On average in the Western Cape, patients waited for between 16 and 108 hours before getting a hospital bed.
Brey was reacting to the Cape Argus story that exposed a critical shortage of beds in Helderberg Hospital.
The shortage led to Gerber, of Somerset West, sleeping in his car in the hospital’s parking area as he was tired of sitting on hard chairs in the trauma unit.
Gerber - who has since been transferred to Tygerberg Hospital for surgery - said he had slept in his car after being repeatedly told there were no beds available. He tried to sleep on the floor, but had found it too uncomfortable and cold.
“Research has shown that if patients are not treated in an appropriate setting where there is appropriate equipment and in an environment that encourages recovery - the result is that treatment is less effective or becomes more expensive.”
He said that while health workers needed to be commended for the sterling work they did despite the “challenges of a broken health system”, they were often overburdened by administration work of managing resources.
“I often receive complaints from doctors who have to spend many hours trying to secure beds for patients. They shouldn’t be doing such administrative jobs... their job is to tend to patients and provide the most possible care, but they often feel... frustrated and disempowered by the system,” he said.
Steyn said patients waiting for admission from emergency units was a reality at hospitals across the province: “[This] is the patient load experienced by the Western Cape health services due to the increase in the population and the burden of disease [and] increasing numbers of people requiring hospitalisation... many for preventable diseases resulting from their lifestyle.”