Pressure mounts on hospitals as Covid-19 peak looms

Tygerberg Hospital staff in personal protection equipment (PPE). Picture: KAREN WATKINS

There is growing pressure on Tygerberg Hospital and other health-care facilities as the country races towards the peak of the Covid-19 curve.

The virus has claimed the lives of three Tygerberg Hospital staff. It was reported last week that Tygerberg ICU beds allocated for Covid-19 patients were already full. However, the Western Cape government says Tygerberg isn’t the only facility with ICU beds for Covid-19 patients.

In a statement last Thursday, Province said the hospital should not be seen in isolation from the provincial plan to manage the pandemic. The plan drew on resources in both public and private hospitals and there were 2 162 general care beds and 150 ICU beds in central and regional hospitals across the province. “Currently, there are 143 patients admitted to ICU in both public and private hospitals, including the 23 at Tygerberg Hospital,” the statement said.

The network of critical care (ICU and high care) beds for severe Covid-19 cases included the 150 ICU beds in the public sector; 100 more ICU beds to be created for the public sector; 300 beds to be bought by the public sector from the private sector; and 300 beds in the private sector.

Also the Cape Town International Convention Centre was being converted into a field hospital to provide some 850 general-care beds for the peak of the pandemic.

“We will open additional temporary hospitals along the R300 in the Metro, in Khayelitsha, and in the Cape Winelands that collectively provide an additional 616 beds,” the statement added.

As of Friday May 22, there were 65 Covid-19 patients admitted to Tygerberg with a further 61 patients under investigation and 20 patients in ICU and high care, according to Tygerberg’s spokeswoman Laticia Pienaar.

On Sunday Health MEC Dr Nomafrench Mbombo welcomed 28 Cuban health workers to the provincial government offices. They are part of a team of 217 Cuban medical doctors who arrived in the country last month to support local health-care workers.The 28 who met Dr Mbombo have been assigned to the Western Cape and are expected to be deployed on Tuesday to Khayelitsha and Atlantis. The previous day, Dr Mbombo attended a memorial at Tygerberg Hospital for nurse Anncha Kepkey, 53, from Parow Valley; nurse Ntombizakithi Ngidi, 49, from Delft; and household aid Muriel Landu, 59, from Khayelitsha, who died from Covid-19.

Tygerberg’s head of nursing, Francilene Marthinus, said the deaths had put staff on high alert. Training was being beefed up and they were being reminded to use personal protective equipment correctly.

Dr Mbombo said Tygerberg management were stressing the importance of  flu vaccinations, staff shift testing, safe transport in sanitised Red Dot taxis (, deep cleaning of clinical areas twice a day and in between patient movements, prioritising Covid-19 test results.

The provincial secretary of Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (DENOSA) Western Cape, Danver Roman, said health-care workers who had tested positive for Covid-19 had been warned “not to tell their colleagues they are positive”.

“If indeed it is so, we think this is the worst form of recklessness by managers as they are not only putting staff at risk of infection, but are risking the lives of their patients,” he said.

Ms Pienaar said the hospital was unaware of the allegation. She said the hospital stressed the importance of physical distancing, hand sanitising and the appropriate use of personal protection equipment. “However, Covid-19 can be contracted in any public areas, which we have little control over.”

Meanwhile Netcare N1 City Hospital general manager Dr Anton van Wyk said its theatre complex had been closed temporarily last week for decontamination by an ultraviolet disinfection robot. He said he couldn’t disclose information about positive cases at the hospital without consent from the national Department of Health.