WATCH | Mitchells Plain emergency centre sees 'dramatic decline' in violence during Covid-19 lockdown

Doctors say there has been a 45% drop in violent trauma cases since February 2020 in Mitchells Plain District Hospital - and they believe it is a direct result of the ban on alcohol

28 April 2020 - 08:00 By Anthony Molyneaux

Gunshot traumas and stabbings have "reduced dramatically" since the lockdown came into effect on March 27. This is according to Dr Fallin van Rooyen, the senior team leader at Mitchells Plain District Hospital emergency centre.

During the month of February before lockdown, 245 trauma patients, who were mostly intoxicated, were treated at the Mitchells Plain emergency centre. However, since the lockdown came into effect, doctors have seen that number almost halved to 128 trauma patients in April.

TimesLIVE followed Dr Van Rooyen on her Saturday night shift in Mitchells Plain District Hospital and it didn't take long for the first medical patient to arrive.

At 20:00, an unconscious young woman is carried into the unit. Dr Van Rooyen and her team jumps into action. Oxygen is administered and an intravenous line is set up. Once stabilised, the woman is sent to the Covid-19 risk area known as the 'red section' of the hospital.

Dr Fallin van Rooyen comforts a trauma patient at Mitchells Plain District Hospital on April 25 2020.
Dr Fallin van Rooyen comforts a trauma patient at Mitchells Plain District Hospital on April 25 2020.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

The hospital has been divided into 'red' and 'green' sections in preparation for Covid-19 patients. Patients are screened at the hospital entrance and if they have any Covid-19 symptoms like breathing difficulties, high fever or coughing, they are sent to the red section. 

Inside the red section, two doctors, fully geared in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), treat nine patients ranging from young to old. 

"The PPE is difficult to work in," says *Dr Gemma (requesting her last name to not be used as she says, "there are gangsters out there who might know me").

"But I feel safe with the equipment we have been provided with."

Dr Kendyll Boere says the unit is ready, thanks to the month long lockdown that bought them some time to prepare for Covid-19 cases.

Dr Kendyll Boere (left), Dr Gemma (middle) and Dr Fallin van Rooyen go about their duties in the Covid-19-ready section of the Mitchells Plain District Hospital on a busy Saturday night trauma shift on April 25 2020.
Dr Kendyll Boere (left), Dr Gemma (middle) and Dr Fallin van Rooyen go about their duties in the Covid-19-ready section of the Mitchells Plain District Hospital on a busy Saturday night trauma shift on April 25 2020.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

Back at the 'green' emergency centre, elderly patients are wheeled into the unit over the next four hours. Chest pain, low sugar levels and disorientation are the main concerns.

Earlier in the evening, a patient with a gunshot wound to the leg was brought in. The man said someone tried to rob him of his cellphone. But the injury was superficial and he was discharged. 

By 00:30 on Sunday morning emergency doctors are surprised at the low number of violent trauma patients being led in.

"On a normal end-of-month weekend we would be flooded with trauma patients [at this time]. Tonight we've only had two trauma patients and we only have fourteen patients waiting to be seen. So I think it's a good night," said Dr Van Rooyen.

But suddenly a car horn goes off as it drives past the emergency centre outside. Dr Van Rooyen gets her gloves and stands ready. "When they hoot like that outside you know they have a trauma patient coming in".

She is right, a young male without a shirt is ushered out the car and led into the centre. He has been stabbed in the shoulder and chest.

"Why are you filming us?" says his friend angrily.

They appear to be intoxicated.

A trauma patient arrives at Mitchells Plain District Hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning April 26 2020.
A trauma patient arrives at Mitchells Plain District Hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning April 26 2020.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

Dr Van Rooyen diffuses the situation by taking the man to a separate room where his superficial injuries are stitched up.

"Normally when intoxicated people like that come in when it isn't lockdown, they bring five or six people with them. It's hard to deal with," said Dr Van Rooyen.

The team takes a short break.

Sitting in the tea room, the emergency physicians drink coffee and chat about weekends pre-lockdown when up to 80 trauma patients per night would have to be treated. Now they sit jovially discussing the isolation effects on their lives at home and the light-hearted banter that comes from working on the frontline.

"Guys, it's a long, payday weekend and look at us sitting here! This is so unusual."

Dr Fallin van Rooyen (left) and two trauma doctors take a break during their Saturday night trauma shift at Mitchells Plain District Hospital on April 25 2020.
Dr Fallin van Rooyen (left) and two trauma doctors take a break during their Saturday night trauma shift at Mitchells Plain District Hospital on April 25 2020.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

Heading back to the 'green' emergency unit a short while later, nothing has changed and 12 elderly patients lie in their beds receiving treatment for their medical emergencies.

The night shift comes to an end at 08:00 on Sunday morning. In total, there were only three cases of violent trauma all night.

Since the lockdown and alcohol ban on March 27, trauma emergency calls to the City of Cape Town's call centres in the Western Cape have dropped by 73%. Minister of police Bheki Cele has also come out in support of the alcohol ban and the doctors at Mitchells Plain District Hospital have echoed his call.

"Most of our patients that present with trauma are intoxicated and we see that every weekend," said Dr Van Rooyen.

"I'm definitely in support in extension of the ban of alcohol because it decreases our trauma burden. Then we can have time to care for our other patients. We are seeing older patients, people with other illnesses and not trauma at all."

* Dr Gemma is not the doctor's real name.


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