Trauma patients may find no beds in Western Cape hospitals this weekend

Latest modelling suggests peak will only come in the next 7 to 10 days

29 July 2021 - 12:35 By tanya farber
The Western Cape health department warned on July 29 2021 that critical care is in short supply.
The Western Cape health department warned on July 29 2021 that critical care is in short supply.
Image: Emile Bosch

Hospitals in the Western Cape could reach breaking point this weekend as Covid-19 infections rise, relaxed alcohol regulations take their toll and the usual month-end trauma load hits.

This was the warning on Thursday by the provincial health department, which said the peak of the third wave had been called too early in the province and was about to hit.

Head of health Dr Keith Cloete said critical care capacity “is already stretched beyond capability” and that the weekend could stretch it even further.

“If anyone sustains a trauma injury this weekend and needs critical care, it could be that we do not have space for them,” he told premier Alan Winde's weekly Covid-19 briefing.

“The system is under severe strain.”

Cloete said alert level 4 of the lockdown had seen a 30% reduction in trauma — taxi violence notwithstanding — but since Sunday's easing to level 3 it had rebounded.

“Adjusted level 3 allows partial availability of alcohol, and this coincides with the usual end-of-month trauma burden. At the same time, our healthcare system is at maximum capacity. This has significant implications for the system this weekend,” he said.

Hospitals in the metro are at 95% capacity, with an almost even split between public and private.

Cloete said preventing trauma lies in the hands of communities, not the healthcare system. “Mitigation for trauma is outside the healthcare system, and we cannot control violence and trauma in communities. That is why we are asking people at the weekend to be vigilant,” he said.

Currently, 30% of all patients in public health facilities are Covid-19 patients.

Sixty-nine tonnes of oxygen are being used every day and Afrox can only produce 70, “so we are just at capacity”, said Cloete.

Last week the SA Covid-19 Modelling Consortium’s data suggested there was a 73% chance the province had hit its third wave peak.

However, infections, hospitalisations and deaths have been rising, and the reproduction rate (how many people each infected person infects) has to drop below one before a peak can be called over.

“Right now it is 1.1 so we have not yet hit the peak,” said Cloete, adding that the proportion of tests that turn up positive had also increased.

“They now say that the actual reality is that there’s only a 42% chance we have peaked already ... last week they predicted that we would have fewer cases this week but we in fact had more and we remain in this phase of widespread community transmission.”

The latest modelling suggests the peak will only come in the next 7 to 10 days.