Lifting of alcohol ban strains provincial emergency departments

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Emergency departments in some provinces have come under “massive strain” strain, following the lifting of the ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol.

Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku said the return of the sale and consumption of alcohol had put a “massive strain” on emergency departments at hospitals in the province. “It is something of great concern because now we have to navigate in terms of the competing needs of the resources that we have,” he is quoted in a report in The Times as saying.

Masuku said these concerns would be raised with the national and provincial command councils on the coronavirus to ensure the strict regulation of alcohol.


It was earlier reported that alcohol-related trauma cases plus COVID-19 “massively” reduced access to medical care for those with other conditions. Professor Elmin Steyn, Tygerberg Hospital’s head of surgery and the trauma unit, said in a Sunday Times report that patients waiting for surgery ended up having to go to ICU. Steyn said the problem was that the ICU beds were filled with gravely ill COVID-19 patients.

Steyn said if people land up in hospital now, their treatment is fraught with risk, with their chances of dying from their injuries much higher, even in cases of preventable death.

Dr Pat Saffy, head of the Helen Joseph Hospital emergency department in Johannesburg, said with the increase in trauma cases, doctors from the hospital’s other departments, who have been helping with COVID-19 patients, were needed for the trauma patients. “People are going to die because there are not enough staff to look after everyone at the same time. With staff becoming infected by COVID-19, it’s going to get worse.”

She said dealing with trauma patients requires a lot of medical staffing resources. So severe was the surge in Gauteng that Helen Joseph Hospital this week had to close its emergency room for three nights because it was overloaded with patients.

In Durban, a private hospital orthopaedic surgeon treated a man whose wife bit off his finger during a drunken fight on Monday. He confirmed a spike in trauma cases, as did a state hospital trauma specialist, who said trauma unit cases had tripled this week. “We have seen an explosion in stabbings, accidents and assaults. It’s a nightmare. All are linked to unbanning alcohol,” the specialist said.

Trauma specialists are quoted in the Sunday Times as saying that during the first two months of lockdown, trauma admissions dropped by 70% at hospitals in Gauteng and the Western Cape. Those declines, according to the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), are now being dramatically reversed.


With the province's hospital system already under pressure from COVID-19, the Western Cape government says it is concerned about an increase in trauma cases linked to alcohol. "A number of our hospitals have seen a significant spike in trauma cases linked to alcohol use since the sale of alcohol was unbanned on 1 June," it is quoted in The Times as saying.

It added that alcohol abuse was taking away hospital beds and medical care from people who needed it during the coronavirus pandemic. "Your grandmother, brother or sister could become ill with COVID-19 and require a hospital bed.

"Every single one of us has a role to play in making sure our healthcare system has the capacity to respond. Please drink responsibly and play your part. If this doesn’t happen, we will have no choice but to explore alternative steps to ensure that this happens."

The provincial government said it noted rumours that alcohol would be banned again. "The Western Cape has not made any announcements to this effect, and we have not received any indication from the national government that this is planned."


Full report in The Times


Full Sunday Times report


Full report in The Times

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