Load shedding: Dark days over for some hospitals

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla has announced that 37 public hospitals will be exempt from load shedding. The minister said the department is in talks with Eskom and local municipalities to increase the number of health facilities that will be exempt from the ongoing power cuts.

Phaahla was speaking at a briefing on Friday which comes amid intensified levels of load shedding which has increased calls for hospitals to be spared

Health ministry to the rescue

“We can mention that some of the public health care facilities have already been exempted from power outrages when load shedding occurs,” Phaahla said during the media briefing. 

The minister also indicated that the exemption will only apply when there is a planned power outage and that most of the exempt hospitals are in Gauteng. 

“Of course, this may not be the case when there is a breakdown of cables. But in terms of planned outages, some of our facilities have been guaranteed that they’ll be exempt. This is either directly through Eskom or local authorities supplying them with electricity,” said Phaahla.  

Devastating impact 

Phaahla said that load shedding is having a negative impact on the provision of quality, uninterrupted healthcare services in SA.

“Load shedding, especially as it gets intensified and over prolonged periods, hurts our ability to provide quality health services. We know that load shedding is not new, it’s been with us for quite some time and they have been indications that the situation will improve. But it has turned out for the worst, and it is affecting our health facilities in performing their duties,” said Phaahla.

Although many public healthcare facilities have generators to provide backup power, Phaahla said this option wasn’t sustainable. 

Backup power not enough

“This backup system isn’t designed for daily and prolonged periods of load shedding. This makes it a huge risk for our facilities and their ability to continue to supply services,” he said. 

He also indicated that the frequent blackouts affect medical equipment severely.

“With the improvement of technology, our health equipment has been upgraded and this equipment relies on the uninterrupted power supply. So when there are continuous power cuts, it gets damaged,” said Phaahla. 

He also expressed concern that the power outages lead to compromise consumables, pharmaceuticals, medications and vaccines that require cold storage.

Safety of healthcare workers

The health minister also stated that the safety of healthcare workers is at risk, especially those who knock off late. This makes them vulnerable to criminal acts during power cuts. 

“We’ve heard that community policing forums have had to jump in at night when healthcare workers go home. Thugs are preying on them when they finish up late at night,” he added. 

Backlog dilemma

Phaahla further indicated that load shedding has also resulted in the backlog of some surgical procedures.

“The backlog of surgeries cannot directly only be attributed to load shedding. As you know, the pandemic also affected these surgeries and they are still behind schedule. We have however reported this issue to the portfolio committee. A total of between 170 000 and 180 000 backlogs have been reported, the majority of them in the Western Cape,” said Phaahla. 

Last month, Gauteng Health MEC, Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi indicated that Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital has a backlog of 11 194 patients awaiting to undergo various surgical procedures.

‘No lives lost yet’

Earlier this week, the South African Medical Association (SAMA), stated that the stage 5 and 6 load shedding has compromised essential emergency operations. 

Deputy Health Minister, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, confirmed that no lives were lost during the most recent bouts of power outages.

“We are now going to meet with Eskom every week. We haven’t lost lives and we are working very hard to keep it that way,” said Dhlomo. – Health-e News


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