Private hospitals not turning anyone away
Johannesburg - Three of the country’s biggest private hospitals, Netcare, Life Healthcare and Mediclinic, have denied turning people away from their facilities across the country.
Social media was abuzz with complaints from people claiming that they were denied medical care but the hospital groups have cautioned the public against believing fake news. The groups say members of the public may have misunderstood the temporary closure of certain units in an attempt to address backlogs, to mean that hospitals have reached capacity and could not attend to them.
Jack Bloom, the DA Gauteng Shadow of Health MEC believes that Gautengers will be in for a rough time over the next two months, as the province is still heading for the peak of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Eastern Cape has already peaked and the Western Cape is peaking. This while KwaZulu Natal (KZN) is still climbing the curve.
"We are no way near peaking unfortunately, February is going to be much worse than January and hopefully by March it will be coming down," he said.
Still, however, bed occupancy in hospitals is behind that of the peak of the first wave where 7 000 patients were hospitalised in Gauteng. "At the moment this is at 3 600," Bloom said.
Other worrying indicators Bloom pointed out is that the Western Cape is utilising double the amount of oxygen it was using during the peak of the first wave of the pandemic.
Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, the founder of the humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers explained that the new variant of the virus was far more deadly and killing people in just 48 to 72 hours.
“It is taking patients in huge numbers, babies, small kids, young adults, people with no comorbidities,” he said. “In the second wave we see people who are smiling, then dropping dead.”
Gift of the Givers is providing help to health facilities across the country in the fight against the Covid-19 virus. His concern is that his staff will suffer burn-out, because of the high work loads.
People are coming late to the hospitals because they don't know they are sick. They have a bit of a breathing problem but then their oxygen saturation drops from 90% to 40% in a very short period of time. And some of them die from clots.”
The new variant he said is also more highly infectious, he added.
General manager for emergency medicine at Life Healthcare, Dr Charl van Loggerenberg stressed that their emergency units remain open and operational, and people with life-threatening conditions will always be triaged accordingly and stabilised.
“At certain points in time, hospitals are placed under temporary capacity divert which is standard practice at all hospitals, including outside of the Covid-19 crisis. This is specifically a tool used to alert the various Emergency Medical Services of the temporary situation. This happens when the care resources for the level of acuity of a patient cannot be met at that immediate time – this relates to patient needs, and not only patient numbers,” he said.
Van Loggerenberg said this does not mean that there are no beds available at the hospital, but rather that the optimal care needed is not immediately available.
“It is also important to note that temporary capacity diverts are constantly in flux and can change at any point within a 24-hour period. We encourage people with Covid-related concerns to contact their GP who will be able to reach out to the healthcare providers in the region and ascertain the best approach for admission or treatment – this is in respect not only to Covid-related concerns, but general health concerns,” he said.
Van Loggerenberg said while their hospitals are under pressure; human resources and equipment are finite, and there are constraints on the numbers of patients that can be cared for within the various facilities. He said bed capacity across Life Hospitals is fluid and is reassessed frequently.
Netcare’s Dr Richard Friedland assured the South African public that it was doing everything humanly possible to bolster resources in order to continue providing the best and safest care during a most challenging time for humanity.
“A heartening decrease in hospitalisations in the Eastern Cape has been recorded for the fourth week running. It is expected that through the month of January the region will recover to the levels of Covid-19 last seen before the second wave. Similarly, Netcare hospitals in the Western Cape (WC) have also started to reflect a plateau in the number of patient admissions,” he said.
Friedland noted that the newly imposed lockdown and restrictions on alcohol sales has had a dampening effect on violence and accident-related trauma cases, which has eased the burden within Netcare’s accident and emergency departments.
In Polokwane, Limpopo, the group yesterday opened a second facility, Netcare Pholoso Hospital, as the region is currently experiencing an unprecedented demand in hospitalisation.
“As part of our disaster management planning, we have commissioned a temporary Clinical Decision Unit that can accommodate up to 80 patients. This will ease the burden on the emergency department at the hospital and will enable the stabilisation of patients prior to hospitalisation.
’’The second unit will provide oxygenation, ablution facilities and safe areas for donning and doffing of personal protective equipment for nurses and doctors. An additional 60 staff members have been deployed to assist at the hospital,” he added.
Dr Friedland added that Netcare facilities throughout KZN continue to experience an unprecedented demand on bed capacity and that this is expected to continue throughout January.
Netcare has 10 411 hospital beds in the group which includes 425 in Lesotho. There are 5 699 beds across 29 hospitals in Gauteng and 1 956 beds in KZN across 10 hospitals. The group has more than 1 716 acute care (high care and ICU beds) of which 1 055 are located in Gauteng and 261 in KZN.
Chief clinical officer, Mediclinic Southern Africa, Dr Gerrit de Villiers, reiterated the statements from his peers and said they have noted a strong, sustained and sudden increase in the number of Covid-19 patients presenting for care with numbers rising dramatically across KZN and Gauteng over the past two weeks.
“Demand seems to have stabilised in the Garden Route and is starting to show signs of stabilisation in the Western Cape. As such we are implementing additional measures to increase capacity but our resources, notably staffing, emergency centre capacity and critical care resources, are under significant strain and in many instances, at capacity,” he said.
Mediclinic said where hospitals are experiencing high volumes of patients within the ICU and high-care units and are unable to accommodate any further patients in these units for a period of time, a decision will be made to implement a diversion to another hospital with capacity to avoid any individual’s care being compromised due to a delay in receiving treatment.
This policy is only implemented for short periods of time, a maximum of four hours, to clear a backlog of patients and during these Emergency Centre (EC) diversion times the EC will still assess and stabilise all life-threatening ambulance cases before referring these to the closest facility.
“In addition, patients in certain places where hospitals are overwhelmed may have to be prioritised for treatment, based on recognised triage guidelines for this. In practice, this may mean that certain levels of high-care treatment, ventilators or certain oxygen treatments will not be available to all patients. Wherever possible, we will try to transport patients to one of our other hospitals where there is capacity,” said De Villiers.
Mediclinic has already increased the available number of beds to assist Covid-19 patients and reallocated key resources to surge areas.