Why are there inadequate beds for Covid-19 in Tshwane?

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has suggested that Covid-19 patients at the overcrowded Steve Biko Hospital in Tshwane can be sent to the NASREC field hospital in the south of Johannesburg.

This highlights the dismal failure to complete the new beds for Covid-19 cases in the Tshwane district that Premier David Makhura promised last year.

Instead of new beds at central hospitals like Kalafong and Mamelodi, the plan was to have 300 high care beds at Jubilee Hospital, 300 high care beds at George Mukhari Hospital, and 150 beds at the Bronkhorstspruit Hospital.

The beds at Jubilee and George Mukhari were supposed to be completed by 30 November last year, and those at Bronkhorstspruit by 15 December.

The reality is that only 95 of the 300 beds at Jubilee have the staff and equipment for Covid-19 patients, none of the extra beds at George Mukhari can be used because of staff and equipment shortages, and no beds are ready at Bronkhorstspruit.

This is why emergency tents had to be erected in the parking lot of Steve Biko Hospital.

Across the province 1100 bed spaces constructed using Alternative Building Technology still have to be delivered. This is according to a report by the Gauteng Health Department which also identified staffing as a major bottleneck and a shortage of health furniture.

The Tshwane district has been particularly hard hit by the second wave of Covid-19 infections and accountability is needed for the poor preparation to treat local patients who should not have to be sent to beds in another city.

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.