Hospital update: Some ICUs now full, with Netcare 'extremely concerned' about Gauteng

Business Insider SA

Covid-19 hospital South Africa Netcare Mediclinic
(Gallo Images)
  • SA's three largest hospital groups report that the surge in Covid-19 cases have filled some of their intensive care units to capacity.
  • Where its ICUs are full, Mediclinic is now diverting ambulances to other facilities.
  • While Cape Town and Durban are currently under the most pressure, Netcare is warning that Gauteng is already seeing a surge in cases.
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South Africa’s largest private healthcare providers report increased strain amid a swelling second wave of Covid-19 infections, with patient admissions delayed due to Intensive Care Units (ICU) being full.

With the festive season in full swing, South Africa’s Covid-19 caseload has reached dismal new highs, with more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases registered in just nine days.

“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,” says Dr Gerrit de Villiers, Group General Manager of Clinical Performance at Mediclinic International.

“ICU beds and ventilators have experienced the biggest strain with some hospitals’ ICU beds and ventilators fully occupied.”

Mediclinic, which offers roughly 1,000 ICU beds and 850 ventilators, reports that facilities in the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal have experienced a sudden surge in critically ill patients. These three provinces account for more than 80% of the national total of active cases.

Due to the strain on ICU wards, Mediclinic has introduced an "ambulance diversion strategy", whereby incoming patients may be transported away from their nearest facility to reduce delays in treatment.

“As the situation is fluid across much of the affected areas, decisions to divert emergency services from hospitals experiencing high volumes of patients within the ICU and High Care units will be constantly reviewed and withdrawn when the unit is once again able to receive patients,” says De Villiers in response to concerns that patients have been transferred to far-flung facilities.

The “unprecedented” demand on ICU units in Cape Town and Durban, as described by Dr Richard Friedland, the chief executive officer of Netcare, is expected to grip Johannesburg and Pretoria after the festive season.

“We remain extremely concerned about Gauteng, which is already beginning to surge, and we are expecting a dramatic increase in cases as holiday makers return to the province in early January,” says Friedland, adding that oxygen supplies had been increased at all hospitals and frontline workers recalled from festive season leave.

Doctors, nurses, paramedics, and healthcare worker teams have been deployed to hospitals where ICU units have reached capacity.

Additionally, Netcare has implemented a patient diversion protocol.

“Practically, this may mean that levels of care such as ICU and High Care, ventilators or certain oxygen delivery modalities may not be available to all patients,” says Friedland.

“Where possible, we will seek to transfer patients, once stabilised, to one of our other hospitals, should they have capacity.”

South Africa’s private hospitals reaching capacity in urban centres is leading to delays in treatment, according to Dr Charl van Loggerenberg, the General Manager of Emergency Medicine at Life Healthcare.

The group has 66 healthcare facilities across South Africa says ICU constraints is impacting patient care.

“Although Life Healthcare is actively responding to the increased demand, human resources and equipment are finite, and there are constraints on the numbers of patients that can be cared for within our facilities,” says Van Loggerenberg, while adding that, despite the drop-off in new cases, facilities in the Eastern Cape remained under pressure.

“We are not aware of patients being turned away, but delays in admission is being experienced at some hospitals.”

Cape Town patients “not requiring life-saving intervention” have been urged to avoid public emergency centres by the local health department.

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