South African day hospitals say elective surgeries are taking a back seat in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

On Monday, JSE-listed day hospital group, Advanced Health Limited, said for most of April it was only allowed run about 5% of its operations. The group, which has about 15 day hospitals across the country and a handful in Australia, chiefly specialises in elective surgeries which account for 95% of its core operations.

Other day hospital groups in SA include Intercare, CityMed and Cure Day Hospitals. Although many have been around for decades and the concept of same-day surgery is gaining traction in the country, the industry is still small when compared to the big hospital groups that offer acute wards, where patients stay longer than a day.

Research by Ashburton Investments in 2018 showed that only 13% of surgeries are performed in day hospitals in SA, compared to roughly 70% in the US and UK.

Under lockdown level 5, the elective surgeries that most of day hospitals depend on were prohibited for the month of April. With the easing of the economic restrictions to level 4, Advanced Health said it expects to function at close to 50% of its usual capacity in South Africa for May.

The group is also pinning its hopes on the possibility that the Australian government will review its restrictions on elective surgery this month. In that country restrictions were even tighter with both elective and non-urgent elective surgeries suspended at private and public hospitals at the beginning of April. While the Australian government reintroduction elective surgeries on April 27, Advanced Health said it is only allowed to operate at a maximum of 25% of theatre capacity.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Surgery found that over 28 million elective surgeries across the globe could be cancelled because of Covid-19. In SA, close to 150 000 surgeries could be cancelled.

The research is consistent with observations of pharmaceutical group Aspen, who on Friday said sales of some of its drugs were negatively affected because people were postponing elective surgeries and undergoing dialysis less frequently.

While governments around the globe may relax elective surgery restrictions in the coming months, the research paper noted that the risks of exposing surgical patients to the virus during outbreaks are high. This means that while companies like Advanced Health say they have crossed their t’s and dotted their i’s to ensure safety, some patients will still be hesitant to proceed with planned surgeries.

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