JSE-listed hospital group Mediclinic is now reaching up to 90% occupancy levels within its roughly 1 000 intensive care unit (ICU) or high care beds across South Africa, with several of its hospital ICUs at capacity due to the second wave of Covid-19.
In an update on Friday, the group’s chief clinical officer for Southern Africa Dr Gerrit de Villiers warned that the surge is putting its staffing, emergency centre capacity and critical care resources under significant strain.
“Currently with the second surge of Covid-19 we are seeing occupancies of up to 90% with significant volumes of patients in emergency centres,” he noted.
“ICU beds and ventilators have experienced the biggest strain with some hospitals’ ICU and high care beds and ventilators fully occupied.
“Our current ventilator capacity is under extreme pressure,” he said, adding: “We have noted an increase in demand in the last week.”
Mediclinic has about 850 ventilators within its hospital network in SA.
“We have purchased additional ventilators and oxygen delivery devices [oxygenators] for certain hospitals where the infrastructure allowed for additional capacity to be deployed,” said De Villiers.
“We are not in a position to release specific Covid-19 admission numbers, as these are reported on a daily basis to the National Department of Health.
“We can confirm that the total number of admitted [Covid-19] patients currently exceeds the peak of wave one by about 75% and in some hospitals by 100%.”
He said the second wave of Covid-19 patients “continues unabated” with significant volumes being experienced currently in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng.
Mediclinic’s main rival hospital group Netcare has warned that Gauteng is set to only now experience the Covid-19 second wave peak as people come back from their holidays and get back to work. Gauteng Premier David Makhura has also said the province needs to brace for this.
De Villiers notes that demand for ICU beds seems to have stabilised along the Garden Route and “is starting to show signs of stabilisation” in the Western Cape – but that numbers are still very high in the province.
Elective surgeries halted where necessary
Mediclinic is implementing additional measures to increase capacity where it can but has opted to stop elective surgeries in hospitals where resources are under strain.
“This need will be evaluated on a hospital basis and reviewed regularly,” said De Villiers.
“Where there is capacity, elective surgeries may continue at associated day clinics or acute hospitals. This measure is in line with Covid-19 precautions, and is aimed at managing the risk to patients, staff and doctors while allowing us to service a community in need with limited capacity,” he added.
He said however that emergency and urgent surgeries will continue at all group hospitals.
From an overall staffing perspective, De Villiers noted that as part of Mediclinic’s measures to increase capacity and resources, most of its staff who were on leave have come back early to support the group’s efforts in the wake of the second wave.
“We have also reallocated key resources to [Covid-19] hot spots, and we have provided additional training to upskill nursing staff from other units to assist in areas such as ICU and high care,” he said.
“Mediclinic Southern Africa can confirm that our staffing levels are currently under pressure in regions experiencing the surge during this second wave in particular KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga,” he noted.
With more of its ICUs reaching capacity, the group has been forced to divert some new Covid-19 patients and emergencies to other hospitals.
“Where hospitals are experiencing high volumes of patients within the emergency centre/ICU and high care units and are unable to accommodate any further patients in these units for a period of time, a decision will be made to implement a diversion to another hospital with capacity to avoid any individual’s care being compromised due to a delay in receiving treatment,” said De Villiers.
“This policy is only implemented for short periods of time [a maximum of four hours] to clear a backlog of patients,” he noted, adding that during these times all life-threatening cases will still be assessed and stabilised before being referred.
The group has also highlighted its volunteer initiative, with De Villiers saying it has a formal volunteer process in place to encourage community members without clinical experience, or who have previously worked in the healthcare industry, and are willing to assist and support its healthcare workers in a clinical as well as administrative capacity.
“Mediclinic initiated this process to ensure that our healthcare workers are able to focus on providing the essential care where it is needed most. Volunteers will assist healthcare staff to focus on their core roles.”
He said the group provide clear guidance to and oversight of the volunteers’ roles and responsibilities, with volunteers receiving the required training in order to feel safe and confident in carrying out their roles.