No visitors, no elective surgeries: How Life Healthcare is dealing with coronavirus

No surgeries, unless it’s an emergency; no patient visits, except in select cases and hospitals now have designated wards, treating only patients with coronavirus. The trading update by one of South Africa’s largest hospital groups, Life Healthcare [JSE:LHC] on Monday gave a glimpse of how the way of doing things in the country’s hospitals has changed as South Africa battles to contain the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19). As at 20 April, SA had 3 300 confirmed Covid-19 cases with 58 deaths.

“Entrances have been reduced…Visiting patients has been suspended with limited approved exceptions in the case of critical patients, paediatric patients and confinements. Seventeen retail pharmacies have been temporarily closed,” read Life Healthcare’s update.

As the virus spreads, hospitals have been under microscopic monitoring on how they are safeguarding their operations, especially after Netcare has had to shut down two of its facilities. The hospital group has completely closed St Augustine’s and Kingsway hospitals in Durban while Parkland hospital, also in the same city, closed its emergency department over the weekend. Mediclinic was also forced to close new admissions at the Morningside hospital last week.

Life Healthcare said in its update it is now operating with average occupancies of around 40{e93887a69cdd95d753f466db084bbc3aa0067124675315461d28d68a72842cc2} in its South African hospitals. The group’s international operations which include facilities worst-hit regions such as the US, Italy, Spain and the UK have had to adopt different responses, informed by each country’s specific measures to fight the virus.

Certain procedures forced wait

Life Healthcare said it has adopted the guidelines released by the South African Society of Anaesthesiologists when it comes to elective surgeries. This means, doctors only conduct emergency surgeries now. The group said it has temporarily closed seven surgical facilities and has already recorded a significant decline in surgical volumes throughout its hospitals.

Further afield, Life Healthcare’s UK-based Alliance Medical Group experienced a 65{e93887a69cdd95d753f466db084bbc3aa0067124675315461d28d68a72842cc2} plunge in diagnostic imaging which include processes like X-ray and CT scans as countries prioritised only emergency cases.

“In addition, country specific self-isolation and social distancing guidelines have also resulted in significant increases in patient cancellations and non-attendance for appointments. As a result, restricted opening hours and limited site closures have been introduced in all regions,” said the hospital groups regarding Alliance Medical Group’s operations.

Accommodating state patients

Life Healthcare, which has 8,037 beds and 682 universal ventilators in its acute hospital operations, said it is in the process to establish pricing for the treatment of state patients – people without medical aid who would have been forced to utilise public hospitals if they contracted Covid-19 and needed hospitalisation.

The hospital group said through the Hospital Association of South Africa (HASA) and Business Unity South Africa, it is participating in discussions on what healthcare interventions companies can provide. Other private hospital groups, including Netcare, RH Bophelo and Mediclinic, have in the past also pledged to help government alleviate capacity challenges in state facilities.

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