Gauteng government says hospitals are coping with Covid influx – but experts disagree

The Gauteng Health Department says that it is managing to cope with the influx of Covid-19 cases in the province, with no shortages of beds reported as yet.

Gauteng Health MEC, Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi said her department is working on several initiatives to ensure that the province is prepared for the peak in infections, including hiring more staff and opening more facilities.

“Despite the health system in Gauteng operating under increased load due to the rise in Covid-19 cases, the province is still able to cope with the pressure at this stage,” Mokgethi said.

“We are adding more healthcare personnel to make sure more available beds are fully functional,” Mokgethi said that SANDF personnel are also being deployed to ease the burden on healthcare workers.

In addition, the department will be relying on the newly built infrastructure in Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, Jubilee Hospital and Bronkhorstspruit Hospital and the repurposed Tshwane District Hospital, the MEC said.

“Wards and beds in other facilities are always repurposed based on the demands of the pandemic at any given time.”

System not coping

However, reports from medical experts and doctors on the ground indicate that the province’s health systems are creaking under the strain, and not coping as well as the provincial health authorities are letting on.

Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University, said Gauteng hospitals are running beyond 100% occupancy. The situation has been exacerbated by the closure of Charlotte Maxeke Hospital and a lack of medical staff to care for patients.

Madhi said the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital Covid-19 facility has 500 beds ready, but only 100 are commissioned due to staffing shortages.

“Why build something if you can’t staff it? In the meantime, there are Covid cases that will spend up to three days on oxygen in chairs at Helen Joseph Hospital waiting for a bed,” he said.

Madhi laid the blame for the shortage of beds at the feet of the Gauteng Department of Health.

“The reason why we are in this situation blows my mind because we knew we were going to experience a resurgence,” he said. “There should have been a contingency plan, but we seemingly did not put this plan in place.”

This was echoed by Francois Venter, Ezintsha Professor of Medicine at Wits University, who told eNCA that there are growing concerns over whether or not there are enough hospital beds in Gauteng.

“We are having reports of people spending two days in the hospital sitting in a chair on oxygen points before they can get access to a bed,” he said. “So the system is under stress, there are no two ways about it; and when the MEC comes on and says everything is under control, that is not the message I am getting from people at the forefront.”

On Sunday (20 June) South Africa recorded 13,155 new infections, of which 8,640 were logged in Gauteng alone. This is the second day in a row the province breached the 8,000 cases mark.

In the first wave, new daily cases in Gauteng peaked at 6,531, while daily cases during the second wave peaked at 6,969.

Read: Union calls for temporary school closure in South Africa

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