Discovery Health CEO Ryan Noach said they will make sure all Discovery members get a bed if they need one, even if they have to move people around the country.
South Africa now has 311,049 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and this figure is increasing by more than 10,000 new cases per day.
The rapid rise in COVID-19 cases has raised concerns that the country will run out of hospital beds to treat patients who need care.
Jack Bloom, the DA’s Shadow Health MEC in Gauteng, has warned that the province is facing a shortage of hospital beds.
According to Bloom, Gauteng potentially faces a shortage of 6,878 critical care beds and 1,788 ICU nurses when COVID-19 cases hit an expected peak in late August or early September.
“The situation with general beds is even worse. Whereas 25,000 general beds will be needed at peak period, only 6,803 general beds are currently available, a gap of 18,000 beds,” said Bloom.
A Times Live report echoed Bloom’s concerns, saying Gauteng may need more than 50,000 beds by September while there are only 8,300 beds in the province.
A member of the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) added that no-one knows the true availability of hospital beds.
“In the midst of this crisis, the government is still negotiating tenders for field hospitals,” the MAC member said.
Investec said that even under the optimistic scenario modelled by the SA COVID-19 Modelling Consortium (SACMC), the country will struggle to meet the demand for hospital beds.
“Projections on this scenario predict a need for between 20,000 and 35,000 ICU beds between June and November,” Investec said.
“But with just 3,300 ICU beds available in total across the country, even the best-case scenario would overwhelm South Africa’s intensive care units.”
Ramping up hospital capacity must also address the sector’s ability to treat the respiratory complications associated with the virus.
“Generally, each ICU bed requires a ventilator. With the government projecting a need for at least 20,000 ICU beds between June and November, a severe shortage of ventilators seems inevitable,” Investec said.
“Figures presented to parliament by his department suggest that the country has 3,216 ventilators – 17,000 fewer than it’s estimated we will need at the peak of the virus.”
The National Ventilator Project, a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) initiative, aims to locally produce a minimum of 10,000 ventilators by the end of June to help close the gap, but production has not yet begun.
Discovery Health promises beds for its members
Amidst the rising COVID-19 numbers and concerns about hospital space, Discovery Health has assured its members they will get a hospital bed if they need one.
Noach told Business Day they will “make it their business to make sure all Discovery members get a bed if they need one”.
He added that Discovery’s plans include moving people around the country if this is what is needed.
The Discovery Health CEO explained they will move non-COVID-19 patients to free up ICU beds for COVID-19 patients.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says SA will have enough beds
Contrary to the concerns raised about a shortage of beds, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said South Africa has enough hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.
“We have added 27,800 beds which have been put into the system right across the country and we believe that these beds are important,” he said.
“What we are now doing is to make sure that they are not just there but also have access to oxygen piping and with that, we think our field beds are going to make the difference.”
The health minister added they will also erect marquees and alternative building technology wards to fast track the provision of hospital beds.
He said Gauteng is currently sourcing about 1,300 nurses, some of whom have started at various hospitals. The province is also working with nursing agencies to meet the demand.
Discovery Health explains
Noach told MyBroadband they are doing everything to ensure comprehensive support for all their members affected by COVID-19.
This start with home-based care and early identification of high-risk patients to reduce their risk of admission.
“In regions where the capacity of hospital beds – particularly ICU beds – comes under strain, we will do everything in our power to ensure that members who require a bed will get one, including if necessary transporting members to available beds, where safe and appropriate,” he said.
“This would of course be in the context of the practical limits and available resources of the country’s healthcare infrastructure, which is beyond our control.”