Gauteng Health pays millions for empty beds at Nasrec

Only 26 COVID-19 patients have been treated at the 1000-bed NASREC field hospital since 1 September, but the Gauteng Health Department is paying to keep it open until 31 January next year at a potential total cost of R256 million.

This was revealed yesterday by Acting Gauteng Health MEC Jacob Mamabolo in an oral reply to my questions at a virtual sitting of the Gauteng Legislature.

According to Mamabolo, R58.1 million was paid by the end of August for the 500 bed quarantine and isolation facility at NASREC, and R69.3 million for the 1000 bed step-down hospital facility. This is really exorbitant as only 604 people were quarantined or isolated, and only 96 patients were treated there for this period. It amounts to R96 000 paid for each quarantined/isolated person, and R720 000 for each patient treated at the field hospital.

Mamabolo says that the Department is paying for the 1000-bed facility to ensure that there is capacity for a possible second wave of infections or a spike over the December holiday period. The projected total cost was originally R350 million but the projection is now between R157 million and R256 million for all costs inclusive of assets to be recovered.

This is hugely wasteful expenditure. There were clear signs after the initial alarmist projections that the COVID-19 epidemic would peak in July rather than in August/September as was originally expected. There was no scenario that infections would be surging in January next year, yet a 6 month contract for 1000 beds was signed on 1 August with the Joburg Expo Centre which runs NASREC.

We are paying for hundreds of empty beds at NASREC until January next year even though fewer than 10% of these beds were used at the peak of the epidemic in Gauteng. A field hospital is meant to be set up and taken down in a few weeks to cope with the peak of an epidemic, rather than kept open for an extended period at great expense.

Premier David Makhura has not replied to my request for the contract with Joburg Expo Centre to be made public, so I have made an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act for this contract to be revealed.

We need to know why this contract is kept secret and whether there is any corruption in the sub-contracts that have been awarded for the NASREC facility.