Covid-19: Eastern Cape hospitals are full

Two special advisers to the provincial health department called on Sunday for urgent steps to avoid a catastrophe, including the possibility of transporting Covid-19 patients from other regions to the two field hospitals in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Two special advisers to the provincial health department called on Sunday for urgent steps to avoid a catastrophe, including the possibility of transporting Covid-19 patients from other regions to the two field hospitals in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Image: File

The worst fear of the people of the Eastern Cape is now a reality — hospitals in the province are full and the Covid-19 pandemic is still only approaching its peak in SA.

Two special advisers to the provincial health department called on Sunday for urgent steps to avoid a catastrophe, including the possibility of transporting Covid-19 patients from other regions to the two field hospitals in Nelson Mandela Bay.

There was no firm response from the government on why field hospitals are not yet operational in the eastern part of the province, and a large nurses union said it was unaware that hospitals had reached their full operating capacity.

The special advisers, former health MEC Dr Bevan Goqwana, who is assisting the OR Tambo district’s joint operations centre, and Dr Siva Pillay, a former health department superintendent-general now assisting in the Sarah Baartman district and Nelson Mandela Bay joint operations centres, said both private and public hospitals were overflowing with Covid-19 patients.

They agreed something had to be done immediately to prevent a catastrophe.

According to the health department, close to 1,500 virus infections are being recorded daily at healthcare facilities at the moment.

Goqwana said wanted to suggest to premier Oscar Mabuyane that patients from other regions be transported to the two field hospitals in Port Elizabeth: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium field hospital, which has 1,500 beds, and the VW field hospital, which has 4,000 beds. 

Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) provincial secretary Khaya Sodidi said the union was unaware that hospitals had reached their full operating capacity.

"I have not met with the premier yet, but I wanted to ask the premier that he opens the field hospitals in Nelson Mandela Metro to the rest of the province. We have a crisis on our hands, as the hospitals are full of Covid-19 patients," said Goqwana.

"It's a fact that hospitals are now full and patients who are seeking help with other illnesses like an appendix have to wait. Hence we need to make a decision as a province to open up the field hospitals to everyone in the province."

He intended making the suggestion at Sunday's meeting of the provincial advisory board of the province.

"With the rise in infections I suspected we might find ourselves in this situation. The people who must be admitted are those with shortness of breath who might need ventilators. We anticipated this happening, and those field hospitals can ease the pressure on our hospitals."

Pillay said if weren't for the Bay's two field hospitals relieving the pressure on hospitals, the situation would be much worse on his side of the province. 

"All the hospitals are full in Nelson Mandela Bay and Sarah Baartman — private and government hospitals.

"We've managed to take patients from Dora Nginza and Livingstone hospitals to the field hospitals and that gave these hospitals some relief."

Sodidi said the union met with health MEC Sindiswa Gomba and superintendent-general Dr Thobile Mbengashe over the weekend, when a different picture had emerged about the hospitals, and even their members were not reporting overflowing hospitals.

"Dr Mbengashe said the hospitals were not operating at full capacity.

"But his fear was that now we are reaching the peak of the virus, infections in the province can easily go up to 1,500 per day.

"And their concerns were that if things continued this way our hospitals may overflow," said Sodidi.

"No one has reported to the union that hospitals are full.

"If this situation doesn't change we might face a catastrophe of hospitals overflowing with patients and people might die outside the gates."

The health department intended to have a field hospital in each of the eight districts in the province, providing 4,000 beds in total. 

Premier Oscar Mabuyane's spokesperson, Mvusi Sicwetsha,  did not comment on why the field hospital rollout plan had not been met outside of NMB.

He said the provincial government had awarded 42 contracts worth R222.8 million to Eastern Cape based contractors for refurbishment of 34 health facilities across the province for Covid-19. 

"These projects are at various stages of implementation with 20 projects having already been completed, 12 planned to be completed by the end of July and completion of the remaining 10 by the end of August.

"We have recruited an additional 1,000 nurses and over 5,000 community health workers as part of the Covid-19 response team."


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