Limpopo health MEC slams claims there are no ICU beds in the province

Dr Phophi Ramathuba says doctors spreading this information are those who don't want to work in Covid wards

Limpopo health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba has disputed claims that there are a lack of available ICU beds in the province. File photo.
Limpopo health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba has disputed claims that there are a lack of available ICU beds in the province. File photo.
Image: Antonio Muchave

Limpopo health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba has rubbished claims by a doctor at Mankweng Hospital that there are no ICU beds available at that hospital and others in the province, leading to the increase in Covid-19 related deaths.

On Wednesday, SowetanLIVE and TimesLIVE published an account from a doctor who said patients were dying at an alarming rate at that hospital due to the unavailability of ICU beds. The doctor said they couldn’t transfer patients to other hospitals in the province as ICU beds there were also full.

In response, Ramathuba labelled the claims as a lie, and said the doctors who spread this kind of misinformation were those who don’t want to work in Covid-19 wards.

“These are the doctors who work in surgical wards and because there is no work there currently we are redirecting them to work in Covid-19 wards, but they don’t want to do so,” she told SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE.

Ramathuba said some unit heads were refusing to let their staff work in Covid-19 wards because they said they don't want their people to die.

“Unfortunately this is a pandemic that we are dealing with and everyone has to do their bit to help patients. This is not the time to be choosy about what they want to do,” she said.

She, however, admitted that the province was seeing patients die on arrival or shortly after admission — but she said this was because they sought medical attention when it was too late.

“One of the reasons people die on arrival is because they spend more time at home after showing symptoms and using all the other non-medical interventions towards Covid-19 which they read and watch on social media. Unfortunately, by the time they decide to consult it’s too late and they die on arrival or within a few hours of admission, and not because we don’t have ventilators,” Ramathuba said.

On health workers being given five masks to use for an entire month, Ramathuba said there was nothing untoward with that.

“Those are not surgical masks; they are N95 masks that are reusable. I also reuse them myself. N95 masks can be used repeatedly for several days and it can be changed only when it is compromised,” she said.

A spokesperson for the health department in Limpopo, Neil Shikwambana, said Mankweng Hospital was the third biggest hospital being used in the fight against Covid-19 in the province, and that it was well capacitated to deal with the surge in cases.

“Mankweng Hospital alone has a Covid-19 ward with 57 normal beds. Out of this, 12 are high-care beds and an additional 12 ICU beds. Currently, there is only one patient admitted to the ICU who is ventilated and 11 beds are vacant. So it is not true that there are Covid-19 patients who are dying due to lack of beds,” Shikwambana said.

He said the department was experiencing an increase in people testing positive daily for Covid-19, an increase in those seeking admissions and also those who succumbed to Covid-19 complications.

“This was anticipated and echoed several times by our MEC, that as we approach our festive season, our honeymoon will soon be over. We used to register early in December a total of 15 new cases within 24 hours, but today we are registering 932 new cases in the past 24 hours. Our cumulative numbers stand at over 29,000, with deaths at over 600. Our active cases have now passed 5,000,” he said.

Shikwambana attributed the increase in cases in Limpopo mainly to interprovincial movements and social gatherings.

“After level 3 lockdown adjustments, we started to see family lunches contributing towards the spike. Many family members started to get infected,” he said.

He said the province was ready to deal with the increase in cases as it had reactivated its surge plan.

All our 43 district hospitals are admitting Covid-19 patients who are not complicated but requiring oxygen. 
Neil Shikwambana

Shikwambana said the province has three major hospitals to deal with complicated Covid-19 patients requiring ventilation, supported by five regional hospitals.

“All our 43 district hospitals are admitting Covid-19 patients who are not complicated but requiring oxygen. All our facilities have been equipped with high-flow oxygen machines and also wards dedicated for Covid-19 with oxygen points,” he said.

The department provided the following breakdown of the three major hospitals:

  • Pietersburg Hospital has three Covid-19 wards, each with an average of 36 beds.
  • The high-care facility at  Modimolle MDR Hospital has five ventilators. Currently only one patient requires ventilation. It also has 22 high-flow oxygen machines attached to its 27 high-care unit beds. Currently only five patients are using those machines.
  • Mankweng Hospital has a Covid-19 ward with 57 normal beds. Twelve are high-care beds and an additional 12 are ICU beds. Only one patient admitted to the ICU is currently ventilated.

Shikwambana said the hospital had a team of doctors and nurses dedicated to the Covid-19 ward and had also opened a dedicated casualty ward for Covid-19 patients only.


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