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Boxing Day trauma cases set new record as Western Cape calls for army help

29 December 2020 - 14:54 By dave chambers
Doctors on duty at Mitchells Plain District Hospital in Cape Town during a trauma shift. File photo.
Doctors on duty at Mitchells Plain District Hospital in Cape Town during a trauma shift. File photo.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

Hospitals in the Western Cape treated a record number of trauma cases on Boxing Day.

Provincial health head Dr Keith Cloete said alcohol-related trauma was largely to blame, and he welcomed the new alcohol sales ban announced on Monday by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

A total of 312 trauma patients were treated at five key hospitals on December 26, Cloete said at a weekly Covid-19 briefing hosted by premier Alan Winde. The daily average in 2020 is 147.

The Boxing Day record came in spite of restrictions introduced on December 15 limiting the opening hours of alcohol outlets and forcing restaurants and bars to close earlier by extending the curfew hours.

"The impact [on hospitals] was massive," said Cloete.

He revealed the Western Cape has made a request for military assistance, including staff for hospitals and support for law enforcement officers attempting to police the new regulations introduced by Ramaphosa.

He said the request was moving through formal provincial and national channels and an answer was expected later on Tuesday.

One of the major headaches the health department faces as the second wave of Covid-19 spreads across the province is pressure on oxygen supplies.

Cloete said the Afrox plant in Kuils River had doubled the amount of oxygen it was producing for public hospitals across the province from 27 tons a day at the peak of the first wave to 52 tons. It was now reprioritising supplies to other customers to deliver an extra five tons to the health department.

"In terms of oxygen utilisation, we are in territory we've never been in before," said Cloete, adding that a new health department dashboard that reports on the availability of beds, staff and oxygen at different hospitals was a "big breakthrough".

The health department chief said every aspect of the second wave of Covid-19 was more intense than the first:

  • deaths had doubled from around 50 a day at the peak of the first wave to about 100;
  • the number of new cases daily was about 250% higher;
  • hospital admissions were up by about 50%; and
  • while most hospitals were merely full, many were handling many more patients than they are designed for.

Overall hospital occupancy is 103% in Cape Town, but Caledon Hospital in the Overberg is running at 194% occupancy. Covid-19 patients are occupying 40% of the 7,464 acute public and private hospital beds in the province.

Cloete said 100 extra beds had been provided at specialist psychiatric hospitals to free up acute beds for Covid-19 patients.

Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo and Cloete had outlined a programme to do the following:

  • boost the number of beds at hospitals across the province;
  • add field hospitals;
  • erect tents at several hospitals for triaging new patients and discharging people being sent home; and
  • recruit about 1,300 nursing staff.

A recruitment team that had worked over the holiday weekend, contacting individuals who had expressed interest in jobs, had appointed 49 people, said Cloete.

The drive to find extra staff comes as 926 health-care workers in the Western Cape contend with active Covid-19 infections. They are among the 1,700 who have been infected in the last two months, 30% of whom are nurses and 12% doctors.

Cloete said the one bright spot in the Western Cape's second wave was in the Garden Route, where new cases had declined in the last two weeks. However, hospitals in Oudtshoorn and Riversdale are still under pressure, he said.