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Western Cape hospitals working through 80 000 surgical backlog

Kathryn Schoeman from Panorama is one of the many patients who had to wait two years to have her surgery due to the strain Covid-19 put on the healthcare system. Picture : Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Kathryn Schoeman from Panorama is one of the many patients who had to wait two years to have her surgery due to the strain Covid-19 put on the healthcare system. Picture : Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 8, 2022

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AFTER waiting for two years, Capetonian Kathryn Shoeman finally had her cataract surgery scheduled as hospitals across the Western Cape continue to work through the 80 000 patients awaiting surgeries.

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The Department of Health and Wellness’ Mark van der Heever said recent figures showed that there was approximately 80 000 non-essential surgeries backlog made up of various conditions, which includes 30 000 minor procedures which takes less than 30 minutes.

The department said the Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on elective surgical services, as it had to direct the staff members toward Covid-19 related services.

“This resulted in a large increase in the backlog of operations,” said Van der Heever.

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Kathryn Schoeman from Panorama is one of the many patients who had to wait for a long time to have her surgery due to the strain which Covid 19 put on the healthcare system. Picture - Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA).

Shoeman, 71, was among the first group scheduled to have her procedure at Groote Schuur Hospital which began its catch-up programme on Saturday.

“I have been waiting for two years to have the operation due to the Covid-19,” she said.

She said waiting has been difficult for her as she cannot see well, read or even drive at night because the vision of her eyes are not the same.

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“I cannot read well because my good eye has a long vision and the bad eye has short vision, I also cannot drive at night, the traffic lights are also too sharp and disturb my eyes. If I do not do the operation I might go blind,” she said.

“What is scary is that there are people living in the rural areas who think they are going blind and they do not know that they can come to Groot Schuur Hospital and do the operation before they go blind. There is a need to educate people about these cataracts,” she said.

Groote Schuur Hospital Trust’s Kristy Evans said catch-up surgeries began on Saturday, starting with the Ophthalmology department (eye surgeries) as they have the largest waiting list with around 2 500 out of the 6 000 across the entire hospital.

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Of those waiting for eye surgeries, 81 of those patients suffered from severe visual struggles and most were unable to go around without assistance.

“The remaining surgeries will begin in June with the launch of our E floor theatres,” said Evans.

Evans added that they had committed to raising R15 million by the end of this year to implement a surgical recovery programme.

So far, R12m has been raised with the aim of raising the remaining R3m before the end of the year to meet their target of conducting 1 500 surgeries.

“The Gift of the Givers have donated R5m for the project. The provincial Department of Health has contributed R6m and over 200 donors contributed to the amount totalling just over R1m,” she said.

The registrar in the Ophthalmology department, Clare Kennedy said she was excited to be part of the project to help restore the vision of patients who have waited far a long time to undergo surgical procedures.

Van der Heever said the R20 million that the department has set aside will help to capacitate the existing theatre infrastructure and to obtain the necessary additional materials.

“In addition to the additional allocation of funds, we will improve day surgery activities as far as possible. This will allow a faster turnaround of patients requiring theatre. We will have one additional theatre list per day, so there are five days in the week, it’ll be five days extra. A full day, which starts at seven in the morning up till five in the afternoon. So, for five days, we will have one extra list,” said Van der Heever.

He said the use of modern technology will also play a major role in reducing the number of patients in need.

“We have recently begun surgical activities using the Da Vinci robot at Tygerberg Hospital and at Groote Schuur using the robot, which reduces the time patients are required to spend in hospital, while also aiding a speedier recovery,” he said.

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