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Battle for virus-hit Tembisa Hospital

Tembisa Hospital staff grapple with unprecedented patient influx. Picture: Dimpho Maja African News Agency(ANA)

Tembisa Hospital staff grapple with unprecedented patient influx. Picture: Dimpho Maja African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jun 26, 2020

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The country’s Covid-19 infections pass the 100 000 mark, staff at Tembisa Hospital in Ekurhuleni are grappling with the unprecedented influx of patients who end up sleeping in chairs and corridors due to the dire bed shortage.

The hospital is one of the three state hospitals that are treating Covid-19 patients in Gauteng. There are fears that the current situation will deteriorate in the coming weeks, with scientists saying this week that South Africa was likely to reach 70 000 active cases by October.

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Gauteng recorded more than 26 000 infections and almost 200 deaths this week. Also, out of 172 113 public servants in the province, 924 have tested positive since March. This includes public health workers and teachers, Gauteng Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku said yesterday.

More than 10 doctors at the hospital were said to have tested positive for the virus. This is in addition to 14 workers who were reportedly infected at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Joburg and another 15 at Given Mkhari Hospital in Tshwane. The three hospitals are responsible for the treatment of the Covid-19 sick in Gauteng.

Senior doctors at Tembisa Hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the situation as a matter of life and death. “Each day when we knock off there are patients we leave on chairs because the beds are full. There are some patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus and because they are not strong enough to be released, they must go to our isolation ward.

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“We have a ward designated for such patients with all the Covid-19 requirements like ventilators and other necessities, but we just don’t have enough beds to cater for them all. To make matters worse, there has been no separation of patients who tested positive for Covid-19, and those who are seeking other medical attention in the accidental and emergency department,” she pointed out.

Gauteng has four quarantine sites to accommodate people who are under investigation or have tested positive, but cannot self-isolate at home. The sites have been running since March.

Gauteng Health Department spokesperson Kwara Kekana conceded that the majority of staff members at the hospital had previously tested positive for the virus and said that they were recovering well.

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Kekana said overcrowding at the hospital has been extensively communicated to the public. “We have been constantly stating that Tembisa Hospital is the only hospital in north Ekurhuleni where we service an estimated population of 2.4 million,” Kekana said.

She added that Covid-19 had increased the burden on the hospital’s beds. 

“The demand for services from the community is higher than the available infrastructure. The hospital also delivers the second-highest number of babies in the country. We do not have a regional hospital, and neither do we have a district hospital.”

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Another doctor revealed that they have had to divert their attention to Covid-19 patients, compromising the health of other patients seeking different medical attention.

“Just last week we had a guy who passed on, he was coughing blood and I suspected that it had to do with TB. Had it not been for the demand and Covid-19, I strongly believe that we could have saved him,” the doctor said.

Last month, the provincial Infrastructure Development Department announced plans to increase existing hospital beds and wards. The department said it intended providing a total of 3 056 beds within its portfolio of facilities, complemented by 1 126 beds from external entities.

Spokesperson Bongiwe Gambu said the department was aware of the crisis at the hospital. 

“There is work taking place. Already 46 general beds and 10 ICU beds have been completed and handed over to the client.”

However, Gambu, refused to comment further on the hospital’s infrastructural challenges, indicating that they only provided infrastructure as directed by the National Health Department.

“We do not interface with hospitals directly in this regard. We can, however, confirm that plans are underway to start work on Covid-19-specific wards and beds. But these will not be delivered by June 30,” she said.

“More beds are being prepared and will be handed over in July and August. These numbers will be communicated in due course,” Gambu said.

National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers Gauteng organiser, Desmond Jeza, said they had noted the grievances of their members and would act soon.

“There was political interference… Which is why we decided to treat the matter with sensitivity. But we have received numerous complaints from members at that hospital,” he said.

Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi revealed yesterday that there were 176 schools affected by the virus,with 58 learners and 188 teachers who tested positive.

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