Police escort oxygen tankers to hospitals as violent protests continue

The Durban CBD after a long day of looting.
The Durban CBD after a long day of looting.

Staff and pharmaceutical shortages, temporary closures and treating patients for protest-related injuries are additional pressures on an already constrained healthcare system in South Africa.

Netcare CEO Dr Richard Friedland said a distribution centre for a major supplier of pharmaceutical goods was looted on Tuesday and the hospital group had to fly in emergency supplies.

He said police escorts were accompanying oxygen tankers to Netcare hospitals.

The owner of a small medical centre in the Diepkloof mall in Soweto, Dr Thabile Vezi, arrived at work on Tuesday July 13 2021 to discover that her business had been overrun and looted.

Friedland confirmed that contingency plans were implemented to ensure patients could continue to benefit from healthcare services amid violent protests in some parts of the country.

However, he said the situation was fluid, and Netcare remained on high alert to respond promptly to possible new developments.

“We are deeply saddened to see the suffering of our fellow South Africans and wish that our nation and its people could have been spared this trauma, particularly in light of the hardships and loss of life already being experienced due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“Extensive contingency measures are in place within Netcare Group facilities and, where needed, have been implemented to provide individuals in need of medical care with the best and safest care possible even under the circumstances. Unfortunately, the violence in certain parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng is placing additional pressure on both the public and private healthcare systems.

Aerial footage showed mobs ransacking and setting ablaze shopping malls and buildings in cities across SA on July 13 2021. The international media has since picked up on the mass looting which has brought certain areas of South Africa to a standstill.

We have treated a number of people for protest-related injuries, placing further pressure on an already constrained healthcare system, including emergency medical services
Netcare CEO Dr Richard Friedland

“Like many other businesses we have experienced challenges due to staff shortages as a result of staff not being able to reach their places of work, however Netcare’s hospitals remain open throughout the country. We have treated a number of people for protest-related injuries, placing further pressure on an already constrained healthcare system, including emergency medical services,” he said.

Friedland said Netcare had sufficient oxygen, medicines, food and water and was continuing to monitor supplies to ensure the health of patients is not compromised.

“We have sent a team of specialised trauma nurses to KwaZulu-Natal and have flown urgent medicines to the region following the inability of one of our major suppliers to get stocks of medicines to our hospitals.  We have had to suspend vaccinations in KwaZulu-Natal.”

As a precautionary measure a few Netcare primary care facilities, Netcare Medicross and Netcare Prime Cure in KwaZulu-Natal, were temporarily closed.

“We will continue to monitor the situation to assess when it will be reasonable and safe to reopen these facilities,” said Friedland.

Netcare Medicross facilities that are temporarily closed include Medicross Malvern, Medicross Bluff, Medicross Hayfields, Medicross Umhlanga, Medicross Richards Bay and Medicross Meerensee. The Netcare Prime Cure facilities that are temporarily closed are Prime Cure Verulam, Prime Cure Prospecton, Prime Cure Smith Street, Prime Cure Bluff and Prime Cure Pinetown.

Friedland said Netcare VirtualCare GP consultations were available for patients to consult a general practitioner over the phone or via a secure video link.

“It is always better to be safe than sorry if you suspect you may be experiencing a medical emergency, and in the case of Covid-19 unfortunately many patients appear to be waiting too long to access health care, even when they are having a medical emergency.”