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‘Contingency plans’ for delivery of oxygen as unrest puts private hospitals in KZN and Gauteng under pressure

‘Contingency plans’ for delivery of oxygen as unrest puts private hospitals in KZN and Gauteng under pressure
Protesters have barred ambulances from gaining access to sick and injured people, according to a statement by the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government. (Photo by Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Private hospitals in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal are under huge pressure, two of South Africa’s biggest healthcare providers, Life Healthcare and Netcare said on Monday as violent protests and looting tore through the two provinces.

Private hospitals in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal are still open but under pressure, two of South Africa’s big private healthcare providers confirmed on Monday.

Craig Koekemoer, business operations executive for Life Healthcare, said the unrest and looting were adding more pressure to resources and facilities that were under strain with the increased number of Covid-19-related admissions.

“As our priority remains providing the highest quality of care to our patients, all our attention has been focused on filling our nursing staff requirements. In most hospitals we have reported some staff absenteeism as a result of road closures and staff not being able to get to the hospital; however, we have made alternative arrangements in the facilities most impacted.

“The rioting has compromised the services provided by third-party suppliers, specifically: catering, cleaning and security. All our hospitals are coping to the best of their ability and making contingency plans to ensure that our patients continue to receive the best care possible under the circumstances.

“We can confirm that we have closed vaccination sites at KZN Life Healthcare hospitals until further notice.” 

Jacques du Plessis, managing director of Netcare’s hospital division, said their hospitals in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal remained open, but some had been placed on “divert”. 

“Contingency plans are in place to ensure sufficient staffing and oxygen to care for patients in hospital. Where needed, some of the hospitals have been placed on divert.”

Nolundi Rawans from Afrox said there was a sufficient supply of medical oxygen in South Africa. 

Covid-19 vaccine roll-outs in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal were brought to a halt on Monday after centres were advised to close their doors because of unrest and looting in the two provinces.

Dr Nicholas Crisp, who is managing South Africa’s vaccination process, said they had advised vaccination centres, both in the public and private sectors, to close. 

Gauteng has been hard hit by a massive third wave of Covid-19 infections, and KwaZulu-Natal was identified last week as one of the provinces with the fastest-growing number of cases.

There are 252 public and 120 private vaccination sites in Gauteng and 423 public and 35 private sites in KwaZulu-Natal.

Shortly before 5 pm on Monday, the Gauteng Department of Health sent out a notice alerting the public that it was responding to “a high volume of distress calls”. 

“Road closures, the barricading of roads, attacks on paramedics and protests in various areas have made it difficult for paramedics and vehicles to enter communities and respond to calls. Our teams are on the ground responding to calls as best as they can in the current environment. There will, however, be delays in responding to calls as a direct result of the closures, protests and attacks on our staff and EMS vehicles.

“The team… had to use Mfezi, our armoured ambulance, in responding to calls last night to transfer patients and staff. We plead with communities to stop attacks on paramedics and EMS vehicles so we can render services to those in urgent need of medical attention.” 

KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane said healthcare facilities in the province were “buckling” under the pressure created by widespread unrest and the blockading of major routes.

“A number of hospitals, community health centres and clinics across KwaZulu-Natal have been operating on [skeleton] staff, with many nurses, doctors, allied health workers and support staff unable to report for work due to the blockades, as well as lack of public transport. Many who were working during the night shift last night also could not go home.

“Patients who were due to undergo elective surgery and those with minor ailments have been advised not to come to hospitals until the situation returns to normal. In some instances, vehicles were barred from delivering much-needed oxygen that was intended for use by patients battling Covid-19 and other ailments,” she added.

In Howick, an ambulance was burnt on Sunday night, while another was attacked with rocks in Mariannhill.

The department also reported on Monday that there were delays with the collection of mortal remains, as forensic pathology services battled to reach scenes where people had died.

“They are also unable to collect bodies from primary healthcare facilities [clinics] that do not have mortuaries,” Simelane said.

“As the government does its best to deal with this situation, we are pleading with each and every individual to create a situation where healthcare workers are not impeded from getting to work.

“Those who are protesting need to realise that by blocking health workers or ambulances from doing their job they could be placing the lives of their own relatives in jeopardy.

“There are scores of people in our hospitals who are fighting for their lives, who need to be attended to by our doctors and nurses as a matter of urgency. Some are in critical condition, in ICU, while others are in labour and need to go into theatre.

“We really cannot afford a situation where lives are lost just because our healthcare workers cannot get to work.

“All over the world, in every crisis situation, there must always be a way to accommodate and insulate health professionals. We are therefore pleading with the protesters and the general public at large not to interfere with health workers,” she said.

Private pharmacy company Dis-Chem said that because of the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal, Dis-Chem pharmacies, Dis-Chem vaccination sites and Dis-Chem drive-through testing stations in the province would be closed on Monday.

Momentum closed its Cornubia vaccination centre in Umhlanga because of the unrest. DM/MC

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