Making most of Covid-19: ICU built at military hospital in five weeks

Defence and military veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says pandemic was an opportunity to fast-track building the ward

Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula dedicated the new ward at 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria to all who have died from Covid-19 at the hospital.
Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula dedicated the new ward at 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria to all who have died from Covid-19 at the hospital.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange

Defence and military veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said Covid-19 presented itself as an opportunity for the 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria, which now has a fully equipped ICU ward.

The department of public service & administration (DPSA) handed over the seventh-floor ward at the hospital to Mapisa-Nqakula on Monday, after it underwent renovations to convert it to a Covid-19 high-care ward as part of a legacy project.

The ward has undergone major renovations, with 78 ICU beds equipped with ventilators. There are single rooms and four-bed rooms in the ward, which are equipped to deal with Covid and other patients.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the project was completed within five weeks.

“I am completely overwhelmed by joy and happiness because this is a project that has been going on for many years. So when Covid came and during the lockdown, we took a conscious decision that out of the Covid crisis we will create an opportunity — and we identified that opportunity as the renovation of the seventh floor,” she said.

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula watches nurses demonstrate how they deal with Covid-19 patients who need ventilation.
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula watches nurses demonstrate how they deal with Covid-19 patients who need ventilation.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange

Mapisa-Nqakula dedicated the unit to all who died from Covid-19 at 1 Military Hospital since the beginning of the pandemic.

She said the project showed that the other renovations which needed to be done could also be completed speedily.

“We gave them five weeks and we now have a 78-station ICU ... This means that all the other floors, particularly casualty and the theatres, can also be done within a short period.

“I think when South Africans want to know answers about how we have spent taxpayer money during Covid, one of the things we can point out proudly is this particular legacy. Post-Covid we will still have this. For us it's a legacy because we now have a ward which is as big as this and purely an ICU.

“We need to quickly construct two theatres and we need to do something about our first floor. The first floor has casualty, and casualty in any hospital is the first point of call. Therefore it is important that our casualty looks presentable and should inspire confidence when people come in,” she said.

During a walkabout, nurses and doctors demonstrated how they treated Covid-19 patients in the wards.

Health practitioners demonstrate how they treat Covid-19 patients in the new ICU ward at 1 Military Hospital on Monday.
Health practitioners demonstrate how they treat Covid-19 patients in the new ICU ward at 1 Military Hospital on Monday.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange

She said the project had been delayed because the defence and military veterans department was at first not responsible for it.

“It was only in 2016 when I signed an agreement with the department of public works to request that they allow us to do our own renovations at this hospital. We encountered a lot of problems.

“It wasn’t easy for the department to collaborate and partner with the consultancy because they didn’t feel comfortable about it. That is why I am saying, for me, when this Covid came and when there was a crisis, it was clear that we are going to need ventilators, ICU.”

She said she was confident that the money allocated had gone to good use.

“I think the team which has been working on this, together with DPSA, will be able to account for every cent which has been spent.”

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