Gauteng is potentially facing a shortage of 6878 critical care beds and 1788 ICU nurses when Covid-19 cases hit an expected peak in late August/early September.
This alarming information was revealed today by Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku in an oral reply to my questions at a virtual sitting today of the Gauteng Legislature.
According to Masuku, these figures are based on modelling predictions that about 8000 critical care beds, which include high care and ICU beds, will be needed at the peak period. There are enough such beds for June, but in July it is anticipated that 2609 beds will be needed and only 1122 are currently available – a gap of 1487.
The situation with general beds is even worse. Whereas 25000 general beds will be needed at peak period only 6803 general beds are currently available, a gap of 18000 beds.
Masuku stressed that extra bed capacity is being built, including 700 more critical care beds that will be available by the end of June, repurposing 700 general beds and an extra 1600 general beds in four hospitals using alternative building technology. He said that there are currently a total of 1925 hospital beds for Covid-19 cases, of which 373 are critical care beds and 1552 are general beds. These beds are in the four clusters centered around the Chris Hani Baragwanath, Steve Biko, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg and George Mukhari hospitals.
The total number of critical care nurses required is anticipated to be 3042, but only 1254 ICU-trained and ICU-experienced nurses are currently employed, so the current shortage is 1788 ICU nurses.
Masuku says that contracts for more health care staff are being finalized and there is a memorandum of understanding with private hospitals for extra beds. SA Defense Force nurses will also be used.
The projected figures of bed and staff shortages are of great concern. It is critical that an arrangement with private hospitals is finalized as soon as possible, and that more field hospital beds are opened.
I am relieved, however, by Masuku’s reassurance that there will be enough oxygen supplies for the high care beds which is very important for the survival chances of Covid-19 patients.
The projected figures can only be a guide as there is still much that we do not know about the course of this pandemic, but it is prudent to plan for worst case scenarios. It highlights the need to intensify infection prevention measures particularly for high-risk groups so that the need for extra hospital beds is lessened as much as possible.