Building much needed advanced critical care skills

ECMO training hub established at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital

Tuesday, April 25 2023

When a person’s heart or lungs fail suddenly from a reversible cause, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) offers the lungs, heart or both a chance to rest and heal, and with this a chance for survival. An advanced critical care training hub has been established at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital to build the necessary specialised skills and capacity in this advanced field of critical care.

“ECMO is a vital lifeline for sustaining respiratory and circulatory function in intensive care patients under the age of 65,” says cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Jehron Pillay of the JJ&J Cardiothoracic Surgeons group who practises at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital.

Pic: An advanced critical care training hub has been established at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital to build skills and capacity in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which is a vital lifeline for sustaining respiratory and circulatory function in some intensive care patients. (Left to right) René Gomes, clinical programmes coordinator at JJ&J, Winnie Ngwane, nursing manager of Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital and the hospital’s general manager Heinrich Venter, are pictured with JJ&J Cardiothoracic Surgeons ECMO programme director Dr James Fulton, Dr Jehron Pillay and Dr Keith Odayan.

ECMO programme director and cardiothoracic surgeon Dr James Fulton, also of JJ&J, adds, “The key to saving the lives of these sick patients, is early referral, as has recently been demonstrated in successful outcomes achieved at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital.”

“ECMO may be required during or after heart surgery, or for individuals with a collapsed lung or heart failure, or those whose lungs require time to heal from infections such as pneumonia. In such cases, the ECMO system artificially pumps and oxygenates the patient’s blood as well as clears carbon dioxide, ensuring that their vital organs continue to receive lifegiving oxygen until the person is sufficiently recovered to breathe on their own again,” Dr Pillay explains.

Following the intricate cardiothoracic insertion to commence the lifesaving ECMO procedure to artificially perform the functions of the person’s lungs or heart, the patient in the intensive care unit (ICU) is cared for around-the-clock by experienced critical care nurses who are constantly supported by the multidisciplinary team following their training in the use of this sophisticated life support system.

“There is an enormous need for ongoing training of healthcare professionals in the use of ECMO, and these scarce skills are highly sought after. On behalf of our practice, JJ&J Cardiothoracic Surgeons and Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital, we see this ECMO training hub as an opportunity to contribute to the sustainability of healthcare through growing these scarce skills that are very much needed.”

Heinrich Venter, general manager of Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital, says the new ECMO training hub will empower all the hospital’s ICU managers and nurses with these critical care skills and continuous professional development in this important area of expertise. Numbers are limited for the training programme, and any available spaces are open to qualifying healthcare workers in the Netcare Group.


Registered Nurse René Gomes, ECMO coordinator, says Netcare and JJ&J developed the ECMO training course, as investing time and knowledge in ICU-trained nursing staff is crucial for better outcomes for patients.

“When creating this course, we wanted to impart advanced ICU skills and concepts in a more focused, stimulating course format to impart the skills that are of greatest benefit when nursing a patient on ECMO,” she adds.

“We are honoured that Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital was chosen for the site of this advanced critical care training hub because of the strongly established specialised cardiac facilities here, such as those required for cardiac bypass surgery and other patients needing critical care,” Venter says.

The training hub includes a simulation room, offering a realistic ICU setting with all the equipment where facilitators will demonstrate all aspects of caring for a patient on ECMO therapy. As part of the training, scenarios are practised with all the elements of a real critical care situation but with a mannequin to represent a patient, providing the staff with an opportunity to practise the troubleshooting involved in a ‘zero risk’ environment.

“We are grateful for the support received from the specialists and referring doctors. The skills that this ECMO training hub will impart translate into lives saved in future, and many more years for our patients to enjoy with their families. This is the true value in making this world class specialised ICU resource more widely available in KwaZulu-Natal.”

Winnie Ngwane, nursing manager of Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital, adds that the ongoing ECMO training will further add to the existing expertise at the hospital, which has 86 ICU beds.

“Training such as this always benefits patients as well as staff, and it is especially useful that the ECMO training hub is right here in our hospital as a continuous resource for growing our knowledge where nurses can return to refresh our skills, and the unit managers will gain the first-hand experience to mentor staff and help them grow further,” Ngwane concludes.


Notes to editor
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Issued by:    MNA on behalf of Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital
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