Life may be returning to post-lockdown normality but it’s far from normal in hospitals

Here are the latest numbers from Groote Schuur

By GroundUp Editors

19 June 2020

Groote Schuur has already seen over 2,000 Covid-19 patients. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Slowly but surely the lockdown measures are being relaxed. It was inevitable; living under stay-at-home conditions was unsustainable. But make no mistake, it’s far from normal in our hospitals.

A month ago we reported that Groote Schuur was on the brink, as Covid-19 cases escalated. At that point the hospital was running seven wards with over 120 confirmed or possible Covid-19 patients, and four intensive care units with 19 Covid-19 patients (besides its usual wards for other patients).

According to hospital spokesperson Alaric Jacobs this has now increased to 25 Covid-19 wards (including patients under investigation). “In total we have seen about 2,000 patients since the start of the pandemic,” Jacobs told us by email. There are also currently 37 Covid-19 patients in intensive care.

The Covid-19 wards are at 80% capacity, while the non-Covid wards are at 60% capacity according to Jacobs. The hospital currently has sufficient oxygen to manage the load. A doctor we spoke to described the complex calculations involved ensuring that this continues to be the case.

Groote Schuur has about 300 doctors and 370 nurses as well as support staff working in rotation across the Covid wards. 296 staff have tested positive so far. Dealing with that, either by having to manage the complex logistics of a high number of staff not being able to work for two to three weeks or worrying about the health of yourself and your colleagues, must be a particularly hard burden.

The capacity of Groote Schuur is being swiftly stretched. The epidemic may well speed up with the easing of lockdown. Although the provincial government is going to great lengths to increase capacity throughout the Western Cape, at some point our hospitals are very likely to be overwhelmed.

We would very much like to film what’s going on in Groote Schuur. Unfortunately we have been refused permission for safety reasons.

We asked Jacobs what members of the public can do to assist hospitals like Groote Schuur. “Wash your hands, wear a mask, practise [physical] distancing and keeping your surrounding surfaces clean. Avoid gatherings of people and limit the time you spend outside of home.”

As the lockdown eases, this is vital advice to follow.