More than 1,600 infected KZN health workers in isolation, MEC tells parliament

The KZN department of health has expressed concern at the shortage of specialist nurses and doctors in the province.
The KZN department of health has expressed concern at the shortage of specialist nurses and doctors in the province.
Image: 123RF/Yuriy Klochan

The KwaZulu-Natal health department has been unable to increase critical care and high care beds for Covid-19 patients because of a shortage of specialist nurses and doctors.

This is according to health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, who, together with the head of department, Dr Sandile Tshabalala, appeared before the portfolio committee on health on Thursday to give an update on health-care services in relation to Covid-19.

While the department has recorded an overall bed occupancy of 56.3%, the impact of the virus has been devastating on health-care workers, with 1,694 in isolation and 724 in quarantine.

This has resulted in dire staff shortages.

The MEC told the committee that while the province learnt from the first wave and had made strides in its response plan, challenges remained. These included an inadequate supply of oxygen due to limited capacity for bulk storage, inadequate supply of oxygen cylinders and facility infrastructure.

Another challenge was increased mortality due to delays in seeking medical care by Covid-19 positive patients.

“High demand and transfer of patients to the public health sector by private health-care facilities and an increase in the need for more contact tracing and testing in hotspot districts,” were raised by the MEC.

Simelane-Zulu said the province had a total of 64,167 active cases and, of the total active cases, 8% are isolated in the facilities (both public and private).

The province repurposed hospitals for the pandemic which have provided 455 beds, while field hospital beds across the province stand at 860.

There are 21,453 operational provincial beds, of which 2,905 are isolation beds.

People under investigation (PUI) have 1,595 beds, high care patients have 94, while ICU beds are 119.

She said the provision of oxygen remained precarious, due to a shortage of cylinders from Afrox depots, the only supplier.

“There is agreement to streamline the management of demand/supply of cylinders at hospital level in line with Afrox's transportation plan. However, Afrox does not have a sufficient fleet to transport cylinders., they are therefore sub-contacting local transport suppliers to alleviate this problem,” she said.

The MEC also revealed that an Afrox depot in Pietermaritzburg was heavily affected by “electricity issues” in the past two weeks and could not produce oxygen, leading to a huge backlog, and that its depot in Pongola has no capacity to produce oxygen.

“Air separation plants output are being adjusted so that they will produce the maximum oxygen output possible. This is expected to increase total oxygen output to 650 tonnes per day. Total oxygen storage capacity is 1,300 tonnes,” she said.

“Industrial customers have been informed that oxygen is now prioritised for health-care facilities and therefore they will not be supplied with oxygen until further notice.”

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