Cape Town - As healthcare workers at Groote Schuur Hospital’s trauma centre brace for a potential wave of Covid-19 patients, the lockdown has delivered them a silver lining: less drinking and driving accidents have reduced the number of trauma patients by two-thirds.
Professor Andrew Nicol, the head of the centre, said that before lockdown, they were seeing 1100 patients a month - about 60% of those cases were due to interpersonal violence and 30% from road traffic injuries.
“Since the lockdown, we’ve seen a dramatic almost two-thirds reduction from our former numbers,” Nicol said. “On an average weekend, we were seeing around 150 cases. It’s dropped down to 37 over this last weekend.
“The number of gunshots and stabbings has suddenly decreased. It’s been quite an eye-opener for us.”
He said that there is definitely fear of a rebound as soon as lockdown regulations are lifted and people celebrate by drinking excessively. For now, the reduction is clearly highlighting the massive role alcohol plays in injuries coming from assault as well as road traffic trauma.
“We’ve tried to surmise why this is happening and all of us feel it’s the limited access to alcohol and decrease in numbers of cars on the road,” Nicol said. “To have this major reduction certainly makes us think that there are ways to reduce this trauma epidemic that we have. If we get some control of the regulation of alcohol, we can see the effect it has on our healthcare services.”
Gauteng-based doctor Wisani Chauke tweeted: “One thing I’m loving about the lockdown is the amount of trauma cases we attend to. In more than a week, there hasn’t been any gunshot or stabbing or patient who was in an MVA (motor vehicle accident) being brought to theatre. I wish it would continue like this post lockdown.”
Dr Gontse Gabanakgosi, who also practises in Gauteng, also noticed the change and attributed it to the liquor restrictions.
“Alcohol-free South Africa means trauma-free casualty shifts,” he wrote.
At Groote Schuur, the trauma unit has been moved to a different part of the hospital to free up wards for Covid-19 patients. The staff are preparing new protocols to deal with their patients, given the precautions necessary to contain the spread of coronavirus. “It’s definitely going to have an effect on how we function as healthcare workers on the front lines, because obviously if an unconscious patient arrives, we can’t be sure of their status,” Nicol said.
“We have to make sure that we’re all protected and that the other patients are protected, in the course of managing their injuries and preventing contamination.”
He said the trauma unit had not seen an increase in patients coming in with injuries from domestic violence since the beginning of the lockdown.
“Our domestic violence rates have always been very high, but we haven’t seen any major shift in that,” he said.