Hospitals ‘buckling under pressure of load-shedding, patients’ lives at risk’

Health Professions Council of SA appeals for their exemption from power cuts

22 September 2022 - 09:28
By Sipokazi Fokazi
The Health Professions Council of SA has warned that load-shedding is putting patients' lives at risk.
Image: 123RF/gorodenkoff The Health Professions Council of SA has warned that load-shedding is putting patients' lives at risk.

Hospitals in SA are buckling under the strain of load-shedding, leaving doctors unable to perform emergency surgeries timeously and putting patients' lives at risk.

This was the warning on Thursday from the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) which regulates healthcare in the country, as Eskom struggles to keep the lights on with multiple power station breakdowns.

The HPCSA has made an urgent appeal for all hospitals to be exempt from load-shedding.

“As a result of load-shedding and various stages of power outages, hospitals in the country are buckling under pressure. This has created more strain on the already over-stretched healthcare system,” said council president Prof Simon Nemutandani.

“Load-shedding has negatively affected the provision of quality care in all our health facilities and placed an enormous strain on the health practitioners on their daily routine of work.

“Healthcare practitioners in the hospitals are unable to perform emergency surgeries timeously and this has put the lives of the patients at risk. These health facilities are used for undergraduates internships and postgraduate training of health professionals who are also negatively affected.”

Nemutandani said more than 80% of South Africans were reliant on healthcare services and the rolling blackouts, coupled with the lack of a robust contingency plan, “has proved to be catastrophic in the healthcare environment”.

“There are about 420 state-run hospitals and more than 3,000 state-run clinics across the country. While private facilities and secondary and tertiary-level public hospitals appear to be well equipped with generator banks, power supply interruptions place critically ill patients on life-support machines at risk,” he added.

“The performance and lifespan of medical equipment and devices are negatively affected by power interruptions ... smaller healthcare facilities, including primary healthcare clinics not equipped with generator banks, are often left in the dark.”

Millions of rand is being spent running generators, and servicing them, at facilities equipped with backup power.

The Western Cape health department confirmed that load-shedding was having a negative effect on its budget.

Spokesperson Mark van der Heever said hospitals and 24-hour facilities with emergency centres, maternity obstetrics units, cold chain storage, forensic pathology laboratories and ambulance stations had generators which automatically started during outages. About 161 health facilities in the province were dependent on generators and UPS (uninterrupted power supply) systems.

Health facilities such as clinics that operated for only eight hours a day did not have generators.

“Since April 2022 our budget item, consumables or fuel, amounts to R53,196,434 which includes a range of items such as fuel, oil and medical gas amongst others. So the expenditure therein is not just diesel.”

Van der Heever said equipment that required UPS included X-ray machines, nuclear medicine and radiotherapy equipment. He said most clinical equipment used in theatres, intensive care units and emergency centres had battery backup systems. However, these have a limited duration and require sufficient time to recharge.


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