Covid-19: now the horror begins in SA hospitals

Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town. Picture: Wikipedia

The dire situation at many hospitals in Cape Town, where there is a lack of beds and medical personnel to deal with the situation, is likely to get much worse in the coming weeks, say concerned doctors.

Cape Town’s hospitals and staff are starting to take strain as wards fill up with Covid-19 patients in an ominous warning to the rest of the country about the infection surge, which is starting to accelerate.

A doctor said the number of Covid-19 patients at Groote Schuur Hospital is doubling about every five days. He said a “surge of cases” was expected in the next few weeks.

“I expect there will be an excess of patients needing care even if all existing beds are opened,” said the doctor, who did not want to be named.

The hospital is currently running seven wards with over 120 Covid-19 patients, and four intensive care units with 19 Covid-19 patients. Three of these wards are for confirmed Covid-19 cases, others are for suspected cases – in other words people with respiratory illnesses.

A doctor said that the proportion of these patients testing positive is increasing rapidly. “I would estimate around 60% at this point.”

This came as Mitchells Plain Hospital reported it had reached its capacity. And News24 reported that Tygerberg Hospital’s intensive care unit is full. Groote Schuur is expected to start receiving many more patients from Mitchells Plain over the weekend, and a doctor told us that the hospital will struggle to cope.

A doctor said that “a transparent and feasible plan” was needed urgently to develop more capacity in the healthcare system.

“This requires beds, oxygen, and importantly, staff, plus a triage system that can identify patients requiring hospital versus lower levels of care. The public could volunteer and be trained to support lower care Covid-19 facilities.”

One doctor said nurses and doctors were working 12-hour shifts. Several doctors have tested positive, all with mild symptoms so far, and a larger number of other staff, including nurses and porters. Burnout is “starting to creep in” but there are a number of support services in place.

But some doctors and nurses are apparently not showing up for work or reluctant to work with Covid-19 patients. In a message to doctors, a senior hospital manager pleaded with them to make themselves available.

“My reason for writing to you tonight is to make a plea for your assistance and to request you to dig deep in asking yourselves why you became doctors in the first place. Each and every one of us now need to be truthful to our oath and to our profession.

“Some staff have volunteered to work in these wards; some have been told to work without any choice and there are many who have not come to the fore as yet.”

Extra beds in Groote Schuur were created by shutting down other services. The department of medicine, which currently runs the Covid-19 services in the hospital, has added the 120 Covid-19 (or suspected Covid-19) beds to its existing beds (approximately 100). In other words, the department has doubled its workload.

“Additional capacity to absorb the expected number of Covid-19 patients will need to be created by collapsing other services to allocate beds and redeploy staff from other disciplines,” a doctor said.

A hospital doctor said it’s difficult to estimate if non-Covid-19 patient numbers have declined, because for some patients with respiratory illnesses, which increase at this time of the year, it’s not known if they have Covid-19 until tests come back, which can take days.


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