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How private hospitals are using lessons learnt from Covid-19 to become ‘obsessive infection control bubbles’

Private hospitals have tightened their Covid-19 protocols, which include screening and physical distancing to ensure the safety of patients.

Patients returning to private hospitals for treatment will find themselves in an “obsessive infection control bubble” environment intended to keep them safer from Covid-19 than virtually anywhere else, said Dr Charl Loggerenberg, general manager of Emergency Medicine for the Life Healthcare group.

“Hospitals have paid close attention to their systems to ensure as heightened a state of safety for patients from the virus as is possible. Covid-19 shouldn’t deter anyone from seeking healthcare,” he said.

Screening and hospital protocols:

Private hospitals routinely screen staff, visitors and patients and masks remain obligatory, as does hand sanitising. All hospitals scrupulously follow the National Department of Health and National Institute of Communicable Diseases guidelines as a minimum departure point, and adhere to Department of Labour regulations for staff safety.

Where necessary, hospitals triage so arrivals are diverted into categories that separate positive patients from Persons Under Investigation, who are in turn separated from Covid-19 negative patients.

At all times the three groups are kept strictly apart, with patients tended to by separate groups of dedicated health-care staff wearing the appropriate level of personal protective equipment. There is no contact between members of the three groups and no contact between the health-care workers attending to individuals in each of the three groups.

Facilities and distancing:

Distancing between beds is still in place in many hospitals, although isolation areas have shrunk because of the reduced pandemic patient load.

Facility cleanliness remains a priority. All furniture and equipment in wards are cleaned several times a day, including the use of ultra-violet robots to disinfect theatres and multiple-use areas. Dr Jacques du Plessis, managing director of Netcare’s Hospital Division said: “We have gone to very great lengths to prepare for the return of patients. The last six months of dealing with Covid-19 has challenged us to seriously manage exposure to the virus.”

Lenmed chief medical officer Dr Nilesh Patel added that public toilets were now cleaned at Lenmed’s facilities every two hours instead of four times a day, while all high traffic areas were regularly disinfected.

Patel added: “We actively control who has to be where, not just staff, but doctors, cleaning and catering personnel, and any other service providers. As management, we have stopped all business travel to cut down on contact with others. Similarly, we have to manage interactions between staff and outside parties. Since our specialists use very high-end equipment, and these come with consumables, we have had to put a strict safety protocol in place for those medical technologists who need access to service equipment. The point is, maintaining management of the virus extends to managing social contacts outside treatments.”

Dr Stefan Smuts, chief clinical officer at MediClinic Southern Africa said although infection control was a standard procedure, “Covid-19 exposed some gaps that the public awareness and staff and management at hospitals have recognised and acted to close so returning patients are safe when they return for treatment”.

Dr Suseth Goosen, quality manager at the National Hospital Network, said: “Private hospitals are among the safest possible places. We know exactly who is positive and who is negative, and what to do, whereas in a supermarket, for instance, you have no idea.”

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