SAMA expresses concerns over KZN hospital bed shortages, medical staff fatigue
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DURBAN - The South African Medical Association believes that the KZN MEC's claims that the province has enough beds to cope with the upsurge in Covid-19 cases is misleading and has gone on to express concerns over "a dire shortage of medical staff, oxygen and Personal Protective Equipment in the province."
SAMA chairperson, Dr Angelique Coetzee, said the MEC's claims were counter-productive to efforts to effectively deal with the pandemic.
KZN MEC for Health, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, yesterday disputed claims adding that bed occupancy in the province is only at 66% capacity.
Simelane-Zulu further slammed reports that there were not enough beds in KZN hospitals. Addressing the media during a webinar on Wednesday, Simelane-Zulu said people have even digitally manipulated audio-visual material and shared it online to present a false picture that the government is failing to manage the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, according to Coetzee, based on the feedback they have received from doctors on the ground, this is incorrect and the figure quoted by the MEC includes all hospital beds, not those specifically designated for Covid-19 patients.
“We’ve had reports that these patients are waiting on benches, stretchers and in wheelchairs to be admitted," Coetzee said.
She said having available beds is only noteworthy if there is sufficient medical personnel to treat those who lie in them.
Coetzee said this was one of the key concerns for SAMA.
"Without trained doctors and nurses, a person lying in a bed may as well not even have a bed. We have consistently highlighted the severe shortage of healthcare workers in KZN; it’s a situation which doesn’t appear to have been resolved yet. We are hearing stories every day from doctors in the province that they are overworked and on the verge of burnout," she said.
Coetzee said apart from the concern over adequate human resources, the issues of operational resources also remain unresolved.
"It’s become an almost daily occurrence for us to receive emails and telephone calls telling us about the problems with a lack of oxygen and PPE. There have also been reports that PPE which is delivered is sub-standard, meaning it breaks when used and does not offer the correct level of protection," she said.
She notes that the three key issues of adequate beds, adequate numbers of healthcare workers to manage those beds, and sufficient and proper PPE must be addressed urgently at the highest level to ensure effective care is provided to the patients of KwaZulu-Natal.
"Our information is coming directly from doctors who are risking their own lives on the frontlines of this pandemic. They have no vested interests in creating a political storm, only to provide the best possible care to their patients while at the same time remaining safe themselves. We can’t be in a situation where we fool ourselves into believing all is well when it isn’t – that won’t solve anything and, in fact, will only make dealing with the pandemic harder in the future," Coetzee said.
A paramedic who spoke on the basis of anonymity, said they are having to re-route patients to different hospitals due to a lack of beds and oxygen.
“In some cases, we are standing outside hospitals for two to three hours while patients wait for beds. We are even calling hospitals as far as Richards Bay to find out if we can transport patients for care,” the medic said.