The Gauteng health department has failed to build more than half of the 1,575 hospital beds it promised to set up in provincial hospitals ahead of the Covid-19 second wave.
The premier’s office has confirmed that, to date, only 300 beds have been added to the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital with 300 beds added to the Jubilee Hospital in Pretoria.
Gauteng department of infrastructure development (DID) spokesperson Bongiwe Gambu said out of a total of 1,575 beds to be delivered by Alternative Building Technology (ABT) , 775 beds had arrived.
Gambu said DID will deliver the remainder of the beds by the end of February 2021.
The 175 ICU beds at the AngloGold Ashanti mine hospital are complete, but could not be used as they did not have the required equipment.
Gambu said the department has so far spent R336.6m of the R500m set aside for the AngloGold Ashanti mine hospital.
She said all the beds have been completed (175) in the main structure, with finishing touches such as electrical, carpentry and plumbing works remaining.
“Contractors are currently working on them. There are also external structures which are still in progress and do not form part of the main building/structure where the beds will be located, they include the medical waste area, refuse area, pump room, waiting area and the medical gas tank works completion. The anticipated completion of the remaining works is January 31 2021,” Gambu said.
Gauteng provincial government spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga said Gauteng had always opted not to build field hospitals like other provinces, but construct structures that could last beyond Covid-19.
Private hospitals have indicated that ICUs and high care units at Life and Mediclinic hospitals are under pressure in the Western Cape, KZN, Eastern Cape and Gauteng.
Life Healthcare general manager for emergency medicine Dr Charl van Loggerenberg said bed capacity across all of their hospitals was fluid and was being reassessed frequently.
“At this point ICUs and high care units are under strain in the Western Cape, KZN, Eastern Cape and Gauteng. Furthermore, we are experiencing increasing numbers in our hospitals in other provinces,” Van Loggerenberg said.
He said capacity to manage Covid-19 infections in any hospital was based on a number of factors, not only patient and bed numbers.
“All hospitals need to balance available staffing — nurses, specialists and allied healthcare professionals — with the need to accommodate and treat patients who are admitted for various health-related conditions, both Covid-19 and urgent conditions not related to the outbreak,” he said.
He said although Life Healthcare was actively responding to the increased demand, human resources and equipment were finite, and there were constraints on the number of patients that could be cared for within their facilities.
“All Life Healthcare hospitals have a Doctor Covid Committee that works closely with hospital management in the daily and ongoing clinical decisions affecting patients, staff and doctors to ensure that the situation is managed optimally.”
He said they had also postponed non-essential surgical cases, depending on the demand for Covid-19 beds at the time.
He said Life group admitted about 1,200 to Gauteng hospitals in December, and over 5,000 patients elsewhere in SA, mainly in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KZN.
Van Loggerenberg said though the total numbers in the second surge had not yet reached the same numbers as in the first wave, it was too early to tell if the total numbers in the second surge would exceed the total in the first surge, but were likely to do so.
“The final numbers will be much worse unless there is substantial behaviour change by society to prevent the current rapid transmission. The maximum number of in-patients on any one day has exceeded the peak number experienced in July,” he said.
Van Loggerenberg urged the community to help all hospitals in combating the virus by not neglecting mask-wearing, social distancing and proper hand hygiene.
Mediclinic chief clinical officer Dr Gerrit de Villiers said their hospitals normally had an ICU/High Care bed capacity of roughly 1,000 beds with 850 available ventilators.
“Currently with our second surge of Covid we are seeing occupancies of general beds between 60-90% with significant volumes of patients in emergency centres. ICU beds and ventilators have experienced the biggest strain with some hospitals’ ICU beds and ventilators fully occupied,” De Villiers said.
De Villiers said they had noted a strong, sustained and sudden increase in the number of Covid-19 patients presenting for care, with numbers rising dramatically across the Western Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Namibia.
“Demand seems to have stabilised in the Garden Route. 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 operates 10 hospitals in Gauteng.
De Villiers said as part of Mediclinic’s measures to increase capacity and resources, it had had to take the difficult decision to appeal to its nursing staff individually to reconsider taking extended periods of leave during this time in the interest of serving a community in need.
“Hospitals have also asked staff to come back earlier from leave where appropriate. Non-emergency surgery has been cancelled or postponed in some hospitals in surge areas in an effort to create additional capacity within our facilities,” he said.