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SA Medical Association worried about 'dire shortages' at KZN hospitals

31 December 2020 - 17:22 By TimesLIVE
The SA Medical Association maintains there is not enough oxygen, PPE and medical staff to adequately care for patients in KZN.
The SA Medical Association maintains there is not enough oxygen, PPE and medical staff to adequately care for patients in KZN.
Image: 123RF/paza

Disagreement over whether KwaZulu-Natal has the resources to cope with Covid-19 patients continued on Thursday as the South African Medical Association (Sama) bemoaned a “dire shortage” of medical staff, oxygen and PPE in the province.

Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu appealed to the public on Wednesday to stop spreading rumours about the province's alleged inability to admit patients due to a shortage of beds.

She said at least 34% of hospital beds were unoccupied in the province, which on  Wednesday evening had the highest number of active cases in the country at 54,981, followed by 39,351 in the Western Cape.

However, the association said on Thursday that the MEC's assurance about beds was “misleading” and “counterproductive” to efforts to effectively deal with the pandemic.

“Sama also says there is a dire shortage of medical staff, oxygen and PPE in KwaZulu-Natal, all of which are hampering care efforts,” it said in a statement.

On the question of beds, Sama chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee said: “Based on the feedback we are receiving from doctors on the ground, this is incorrect and the figure quoted by the MEC includes all hospital beds, not those specifically designated for Covid-19 patients.

“We’ve had reports that these patients are waiting on benches, stretchers and in wheelchairs to be admitted.”

Coetzee said the number of available beds was only noteworthy if there were enough medical personnel to treat people in them. “Without trained doctors and nurses, a person lying in a bed may as well not even have a bed.

“We have consistently highlighted the severe shortage of health-care workers in KZN. It’s a situation which doesn’t appear to have been resolved yet. We are hearing stories every day from doctors in the province that they are overworked and on the verge of burnout.”

She said Sama received e-mails and calls almost daily about a lack of PPE and oxygen. Beds, adequate staffing and equipment needed to be addressed at the highest level to ensure patients received effective care.

“Our information is coming directly from doctors who are risking their lives on the front lines. They have no vested interests in creating a political storm, only to provide the best possible care to their patients while remaining safe themselves.

“We can’t be in a situation where we fool ourselves into believing all is well when it isn’t. That will only make dealing with the pandemic harder in the future,” she added.

Simelane-Zulu said as of Monday, the number of beds for isolation and patients under investigation was 3,477.

“Of these beds, 2,289 were occupied, which amounts to a 66% bed occupancy rate. These variations in bed occupancy rates among districts mean the province has 34% of beds that are unoccupied. This allows for intra ——district transfer of Covid-19 patients where there is pressure, should the need arise,” she said.

“We are confident bed occupancy will become a lot more stable, thanks to the reintroduction of level 3 regulations.”