Covid-19: Eastern Cape disputes claims it will send some patients to other provinces

The Eastern Cape government has disputed comments attributed to a senior official who said Covid-19 patients in the province would be sent to neighbouring provinces due to the lack of capacity at field hospitals.

This after an article was published on TimesLive quoting project management unit team leader Dr Sibongile Zungu as saying as new Covid-19 cases increased by about 2 000 per day, the province would need help from its neighbours.

But in a statement on Friday, the Office of the Premier denied the claims, saying the province was continuing to refurbish and repurpose health facilities for Covid-19 purposes.

“We have completed 25 health infrastructure refurbishment projects across the districts and the two metros and these give us 518 beds. At the moment, the province does not have a shortage of hospital beds for people infected by Covid-19 and other medical conditions.

“Our hospitals are not yet full and we continue increasing the number of hospital beds in our health facilities to build enough capacity for the expected surge of numbers, hence the field hospitals come in as overflow facilities”.

Zungu is the head of a project management unit in the province following a decision to send a delegation to the province by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize earlier this year.

Mkhize himself has expressed his concerns over the “shortfall” in the capacity to manage the pandemic.

A multitude of news reports over the past weeks have shown how hospitals in the Eastern Cape have been battling under the strain of Covid-19, with Premier Oscar Mabuyane admitting they were “overwhelmed”.

The provincial government said it had taken a decision to work with neighbouring provinces to ensure when communities bordering them needed to be hospitalised, they could use hospitals that are closer to them, saving them from having to travel long distances to ones in the Eastern Cape.

“This does not suggest failure by our government to build field hospitals or failure to provide healthcare to the people of our province. This is a decision taken to save the lives of our people who need emergency care by ensuring that they access hospitals closer to them.

“It does not make sense to make a person travel four hours when they can access health care within an hour or two from where they stay.

“This decision also means hospitals closer to neighbouring provinces will source their oxygen from towns in those provinces to cut long distances for delivering oxygen cylinders to hospitals from Port Elizabeth. We are also building oxygen banks in these hospitals to reduce lead time for delivery of oxygen to hospitals”.

Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, who was speaking at St Barnabas Provincial Hospital on Friday, said some Eastern Cape residents stayed closer to hospitals in other provinces, such as KwaZulu-Natal.

She made an example of a person in dire need of oxygen who travelled 30km to a facility while he or she was 5km away from a hospital in KwaZulu-Natal.

“That person will not choose to travel 30km but would choose the 3 or 5km to get the service. It is correct that this is happening inter-provincially. It’s an issue that we must appreciate but it is not an issue specifically made by government, it is made by people’s choices and how far they are to facilities”.

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