Eastern Cape 'will send patients to other provinces' as Covid-19 soars

Province failed to build field hospitals in time — now resources should go to staff and equipment: Dr Sibongile Zungu

30 July 2020 - 17:23
By Mpumzi Zuzile
Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane has warned that the pandemic will reach its peak in the province in August.
Image: MICHAEL PINYANA Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane has warned that the pandemic will reach its peak in the province in August.

The Eastern Cape will need to send Covid-19 patients to neighbouring provinces.

This was the admission from project management unit team leader Dr Sibongile Zungu, who said as new Covid-19 cases increased by about 2,000 a day, it would need help from its neighbours.

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane appointed the unit a week ago to provide technical support and advice to the province. Zungu is the former head of the KwaZulu-Natal health department and is health minister Zweli Mkhize's clinical adviser.

Speaking to TimesLIVE on Thursday, Zungu said regions such as Alfred Nzo, Sarah Baartman and Chris Hani would need to send patients to KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and the Free State, respectively, as they were far from the province’s three tertiary hospitals.

Zungu said the Eastern Cape had failed to build field hospitals in time, which meant her unit has proposed that the province should rather focus on employing more health workers.

She said her unit discovered that hospitals in the Alfred Nzo, Sarah Baartman and Chris Hani regions do not have the proper equipment, such as oxygen and ventilators, or  staff to handle the surge.

“These regions are far from tertiary hospitals, which are in Port Elizabeth, East London and Mthatha. In these areas we proposed to the provincial government [that] we rather talk to our neighbouring provinces so they can accommodate our patients and we rather just use the funds for those field hospitals to get more resources such as nurses, doctors, emergency transport and equipment,” she said. “What will be the use of having field hospitals in these areas when we do not have the required staff, equipment and transport?”

She said the unit had further proposed to the provincial government that the health department should use existing government properties as field hospitals.

What will be the use of having field hospitals in these areas when we do not have the required staff, equipment and transport?
Dr Sibongile Zungu

“In some areas we have enough beds but do not have enough staff. We also proposed that the majority of the funds be used for staffing,” she said.

Zungu added that the province had been struggling to recruit staff in rural areas.

Zungu further acknowledged that the province's Covid-19 death numbers were not as accurate as are being reported. She highlighted the province's two metros, Buffalo City (East London) and Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth), as the major problematic areas when it came to capturing figures.

“The backlog is big as some of these hospitals have not done proper capturing. In some cases these are done by nurses and doctors who have their own duties other than administration,” she said.

Last week, a huge jump in 400 Covid-19 deaths in a single day in the Eastern Cape sparked finger-pointing, as scapegoats are sought for the reporting “glitch”.

The sudden rise from 945 on Tuesday July 21 to 1,345 on Wednesday July 22, came after the Nelson Mandela Bay region failed to report deaths between June 29 and July 21.

Siyanda Manana, spokesperson for the provincial health department, placed the blame on the department's epidemiology unit, which is responsible for collating the figures. The department has been instructed to submit a report.

This week, Mabuyane said the government has embarked on a rapid recruitment drive to secure health-care workers through a shortened seven-day recruitment process to enhance capacity in the sector.

The premier’s commitment comes as the provincial health system buckles under the strain of 3,534 health workers testing positive. So far 56 have lost their lives to Covid-19.

Mabuyane said a recruitment plan to focus on the staffing of the Volkswagen SA Rev Dr Elizabeth Mamisa Chabula-Nxiweni field hospital would also be finalised this week.

Mabuyane warned this week that the full might of the storm is still to come and the province’s surge in infections is expected to double in the next six weeks.

The latest figures released on Wednesday night showed the Eastern Cape had 75,872 confirmed cases, 1,579 deaths and 62,371 recoveries.

Mabuyane said the surge in infections in August will put the “already strained health system” under more pressure, particularly on the availability of critical-care beds.

“Our forecast is that August is the centre of the Covid-19 storm. All of us need to buckle up because we are about to enter the toughest time of our lifetime,” he said.

Turning to the provincial government's concerns, Mabuyane said the increase in the number of health-care workers testing positive for Covid-19 was a worry, despite the improved efforts to ensure personal protective equipment (PPE) was available to front-line staff.

Mabuyane said the department would receive R2.5bn from Bhisho, R840m of which would go towards field hospitals, infrastructure and operating costs such as maintenance of quarantine and isolation sites by the department of public works.

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