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Cape hospital boosts elective surgeries after neglect during Covid-19 pandemic

09 June 2022 - 08:56
Medical manager at Groote Schuur Hospital Dr Shrikant Peters shows off the E4 theatre, which will be used to perform catch-up surgeries post Covid-19.
Medical manager at Groote Schuur Hospital Dr Shrikant Peters shows off the E4 theatre, which will be used to perform catch-up surgeries post Covid-19.
Image: Sipokazi Fokazi

For several years Kathryn Schoeman, 71, of Panorama in Cape Town, couldn’t read and she gave up driving at night after her eyesight started deteriorating drastically.

Even though four years ago she had cataract surgery on her left eye, the damage to her right eye was so bad that even the healthy eye was constantly strained, making it difficult for her to carry out her normal activities. Despite her vision problems, two years ago doctors told her that she couldn’t have surgery on her other eye because priority had to be given to Covid-19 patients.

But in May she finally had her vision restored — thanks to Groote Schuur Hospital’s Surgical Recovery Project — a public-private partnership aimed at addressing the surgical backlog, which has worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The catch-up project, which will use two theatres specifically built for Covid-19 patients, is set to perform 1,500 elective surgeries in one year. These include cataract surgery, cancer operations and orthopaedic procedures. These surgeries had to be postponed after Covid-19 hit SA in 2020.

Kathryn Schoeman had her eyesight restored.
Kathryn Schoeman had her eyesight restored.
Image: Supplied

So far R12.7m has been donated towards the project with donors including the Gift of  the Givers and more than 200 individuals and businesses.

In the past two years most hospitals, including Groote Schuur Hospital, had to curtail outpatient services, limit admissions and reduce the number of surgical procedures to make way for the treatment of Covid-19 patients.

This week Schoeman said she was excited to be one of the first patients to benefit from the surgery project. “Now I have wonderful vision. It’s amazing to be able to do things that I couldn’t do and feel normal again. I can read my Bible and all my library books, and drive at night. I don’t have to use my cellphone torch to brighten the words, which was very frustrating and left me quite despondent at times.”

Amina Ismail, 89, of Steenberg is also ecstatic about regaining her vision. “I waited for many years to get my eye fixed. And just when I thought I was going to have my cataract procedure, Covid-19 happened. So I had to wait again. But I got a call a few weeks ago saying I could come in and have it done on the weekend. The procedure was quick. I can now see much better, and can watch TV.”

Head of surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital Lydia Cairncross said being one of the hospitals that were hard-hit by Covid-19 meant patients having to wait anxiously for surgery.

“They've been waiting for the cancer operation, waiting for their sight to be restored, waiting for their hearing to be improved, waiting for their pain to be made better.”

The longer they waited many of these patients got worse and surgeries became more difficult to perform as conditions became more complex.

“And in this waiting, I think for me what's important to remember as surgeons ... what is hard for us as surgical teams is to know that we have the expertise, we have the technology, we have the ability to perform, in some cases, near-miraculous change of quality of life and of saving lives, which these patients are waiting for.

“So I am really grateful that the pain we have been feeling on behalf of our patients has been felt by the broader community, by the provincial department of health and by our hospital management. That has been demonstrated through the contributions that have been made to this project,” she said.

So far 67 surgeries have been performed, which include cataract operations, stoma closures, gynaecological diagnostic procedures, breast cancer operations and orthopaedic procedures.

“I want to give you a sense of what we're actually doing, that behind every number that you have on the dashboard is an actual person whose life is being improved and in many cases being saved by this project. This project is not only helping the patients here, but our provincial hospitals such as New Somerset, Victoria and Mitchells Plain will also benefit from this project,” said Cairncross.


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